Thursday 21 March 2019

How ministers lobbied to get their advisers bigger salaries

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin speaking at Dublin Castle yesterday.
Picture: Steve Humphreys
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin speaking at Dublin Castle yesterday. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Daniel McConnell and Niall O'Connor

Several Cabinet ministers last year intervened to bump up the pay of their special advisers, above the level originally proposed by Brendan Howlin's spending department.

On occasion, Mr Howlin and his officials granted requests for higher salaries - but only after being lobbied by other ministers.

The majority of ministers who presented the "exceptional" cases on behalf of their advisers were Labour Party TDs.

New rules introduced by Mr Howlin in 2011 state that special advisers should be put on an initial salary of €80,051, which is known as the first point on the scale for so-called 'principal officers' in the civil service.

However, the rules allow for this to be adjusted upwards once it secures both his and the Finance Minister's backing.

In September, Environment Minister Alan Kelly sought to appoint Liam Cahill to an advisory role with a salary of €88,936. Mr Kelly claimed Mr Cahill has "wide-ranging experience" in public administration, as well as a "broad knowledge of public and media relations".

But a month later, Mr Kelly rowed back on his request for the highest possible salary for Mr Cahill and instead sought a lower amount of €85,750.

In later correspondence between the two ministers, Mr Kelly said he intended to task Mr Cahill with advising him on the Government's housing strategy and Irish Water.

A spokesman for Mr Kelly said all of his advisers are paid below the formal pay cap.

Separately, Finance Minister Michael Noonan's officials sought that his adviser Paul Bolger be paid €3,000 more than the level set down by the spending department.

A salary of €78,600 had been sought for Mr Bolger, but this was initially rejected.

"A request has been received from HR unit in the Department of Finance to place Mr Bolger on a salary scale which is higher than the guidelines. It is proposed that on the basis of the case made, there is no compelling reason to sanction the increase," Mr Howlin's officials said. But, five days later, the department signed off on the increase.

It's also emerged that Communications Minister Alex White wrote to Mr Howlin's officials seeking to place his special adviser Bernard Harbor on a scale higher than the standard scale for principal officers.

"While I am aware that advisers are placed on the principal officer standard scale, I am requesting that in view of Mr Harbor's salary with his existing employer, he could be placed at the top end of the scale," Mr White wrote. The request was later sanctioned.

His adviser Madeline Mulrennan was also offered the highest principal officer salary of €91,624, an October 15 document states.

This was higher than a salary of €79,401 which was offered to her on September 24. Last night, the department said this higher figure was incorrect but failed to clarify what she is being paid.

Documents also show that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney secured a €25,000 salary increase last July for his adviser Caitriona Fitzpatrick.

She had been paid €51,365 when she worked for Mr Coveney as a media adviser. Following promotion, she saw her salary increase to €75,647.

It was previously revealed that Tánaiste Joan Burton sought to have her former PA Karen O'Connell put on a salary of €79,401 but sanction was given for €75,647.

Ms Burton's chief of staff Ed Brophy also saw his salary increased from €119,572 to €144,550 - and she secured a salary of €114,424 for her economic adviser Terry Quinn. However, the full cost of salaries for the Tánaiste's office is lower than when Eamon Gilmore was in charge.

Irish Independent

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