STATE-OWNED ESB is paying more than €80,000 to an embattled union boss who described his members as "spoilt".
The energy supplier admits it finances secretary of the group of unions Brendan Ogle's salary, including his full-time secretary's wages and offices on Merrion Square in Dublin.
The commercial semi-state company last night said the arrangement was "unique" as Mr Ogle was on secondment from Unite union.
The ESB added that Mr Ogle's appointment to the job three years ago was the first time a union official had taken the role and gone on the payroll.
Previous holders of the position were already staff members.
The revelations raise questions about why a company would pay a union representative who is supposed to represent staff in talks with management.
Mr Ogle was yesterday forced to apologise to ESB staff, who earn an average €75,000 a year, after describing them as "spoilt" in a speech in May that was caught on camera and posted online.
In the speech to the republican socialist group Eirigi, Mr Ogle also claimed ESB workers enjoyed government "gravy" in the form of perks such as after-work schemes.
Mr Ogle claimed his comments were reported "completely out of context".
"Nevertheless, I fully appreciate that the comments were made in an inappropriate environment and manner and I sincerely apologise to all ESB staff for any hurt caused by recent reportage," he added.
"Throughout my address, I repeatedly stated that I am lucky and privileged to represent the staff in ESB. I reiterate that comment now.
"In that role, I have consistently pointed out to staff that due to the downturn, loss of customers and the fall off in project development, that 'gravy', which all workers in the public and private sector benefited from during the so-called Celtic Tiger years, would dry up."
He claimed that he was not aligned to any "party or group" and had taken up invitations to speak from groups of varied political persuasions.
"However, clearly, insofar as my role as secretary of the ESB group of unions is concerned, this episode demonstrates that I will now have to review this approach," he said.
His "gravy" comments came to light at the weekend as the ESB announced a 12pc hike in prices, to hit consumers next month.
The episode comes at a sensitive time for the group of unions secretary, as he is due to begin talks on €140m cuts in payroll on behalf of the workforce of more than 7,000 today.
He may also face the wrath of members of the five-union group, as an emergency meeting has been called in Unite head office on Abbey Street in Dublin this morning.
There was further anger among workers at the ESB's Northern Ireland Electricity yesterday. They urged the ESB to clarify whether it will continue to pay Mr Ogle's wages.
Former ESB deputy chairman Joe La Cumbre said he had been contacted by the workers, who were angered by the "context and location" of the speech "in front of two posters demanding 'Brits out'".
"A speech against the backdrop of these posters is an appalling portrayal of trade unionism in the south of Ireland," he said.
Sources said TEEU members were also furious as they were beneficiaries of the work perks described by Mr Ogle as "gravy", which meant they got double time on Saturdays and triple time on Sundays.
Last night, the ESB refused to give details of the financial package that Mr Ogle enjoys.
But sources told the Irish Independent Mr Ogle's pay was more than €80,000, plus expenses.