Richard Boyd Barrett TD gave an ironic slow handclap in the chamber, saying it should be enough for superjuniors when healthcare heroes got nothing in extra pay. “The double standards of that are frankly nauseating.”
Each of the three coalition parties now gets a so-called superjunior – and Ms Hackett is the Green Party beneficiary. Hildegarde Naughton (FG) and Jack Chambers (FF) are the others.
However the law allowed only two payments in the post, with Fianna Fáil having resisted a pay increase for a third – intended to be former Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell – when it was mooted in 2017.
Yet a special section was tacked on to the Bill setting up Simon Harris’s new Department of Higher Education, to benefit superjuniors by €16,288. It passed by 72 votes to 46.
Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin, who forced a motion of Section 2 of the Bill, said the Government had deemed it a priority to rush through a pay increase for three superjuniors.
Colleague David Cullinane said the move was “beyond shameful” and without justification. “Anybody who votes for this can not look a staff nurse in the eye anymore. You are pulling a stroke here. You were quick to clap those frontline workers, but this is a slap in their face. The brass neck of that is galling.”
Rose Conway Walsh said it was the most devious thing she had witnessed in politics to date. There was a “circle of greed” between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens and it was absolutely shameful.
But Minister Simon Harris said there was ‘a stench of hypocrisy’ from some speakers and said SF MLAs in Northern Ireland had accepted a pay increase in April “at the height of the pandemic.” They had also claimed €4.7 million when Stormont was closed.
Pippa Hackett arrives at Dublin Castle for a Cabinet meeting (Niall Carson/PA)
Independent Marian Harkin the salary increase for the already well-paid trio came to €313 per week, “not a lot less than the PUP payment.” This left a sour taste, she said, telling the Government it would not be worth it.”
Paul Murphy the Rise TD said the move came “at a time when in one four people in this country is unemployed at a time of great crisis".
“It really adds to the whingeing campaigning by various backbench TDs who looked for an extra €40,000 by appointment as a junior or €80,000 as a senior minister - and then to have a situation where an extra €16,000 is to be added for someone who is already very well paid.
“You look at the actions of this Government – cuts to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, a vote to gut a motion in support of the Debenham’s workers, and a miserly decision to only extend the eviction ban to August– yet a majority in this Dáil will vote through a pay increase for an already very well-paid person.”
Tipperary Independent Mattie McGrath said he remembered when only one superjunior sat at Cabinet – which the Constitution limits to 15 full ministers, including the Taoiseach.
“To increase the salary sticks in the craw of people who are trying to survive. It is a huge issue,” he said.
“We want to show example to the people out there who are suffering. It is just not fair or right. It doesn’t sit well with me, my constituency or with the country.”
Mr Murphy said: “It is outrageous, it is mind-boggling to people out there who see this crisis and the looming depression - and then see the Government voting to pay themselves more money.”
Finana Fáil had previously, when Fine Gael was in Government, made a stand to block any attempt to fund another superjunior position, and had issued a press release touting their refusal, he said.
“They took a principled stand – and now yesterday, Michael McGrath, the Minister, a member of Fianna Fáil, has drafted the relevant section to allow this pay.
“What’s different now? What’s different is who it is has their snouts in the trough,” Mr Murphy said. “It is the kind of thing that rightly makes people deeply cynical.
“Fianna Fáil is very capable of opposing one thing when in Opposition and then, when in power, they are positively driving it through to make sure all junior ministers are topped up to €140,0000 a year in a time of mass unemployment.
“It is deeply offensive to people and the people will take note. It will be seen as emblematic - demonstrating the complete out-of-touch nature of the Government and what its priorities are.”
Fianna Fáil maverick John McGuinness TD said it would be better to have the higher education legislation “without having the drawback of having to pass the section of the Bill relating to junior ministers.
“There is a need for a debate on the appointment of junior, superjunior and senior ministers,” he said. It would give greater understanding to the people of the work being down by modern governments, which operated “in a much deeper way than before,” he said.
Mr Boyd Barrett said that if the overriding concern was to have equality among Ministers, then Cabinet Ministers could reduce their salary to that of that of juniors to achieve it.
“I think the increase in the superjuniors is a mistake. It is a slap in the face,” Roisín Shortall of the Social Democrats told Mr Harris.
Comment was offered to all three beneficiary superjuniors by the Irish Independent via phone and text, but none has yet been forthcoming in reply.