Enda's €50k hometown aide to boost local profile
Castlebar Fine Gael activist hired as 'media liaison officer' at cost to taxpayer
Taoiseach Enda Kenny splashed out more than €50,000 of taxpayer's money on a new personal assistant to boost his local profile as fears grow about his support plummeting in Mayo.
Fine Gael party activist Jack O'Donnell recently landed the plum role as the Taoiseach's personal local media liaison and is busily rebuilding Mr Kenny's image in his hometown.
Mr O'Donnell, who is an active party member in Castlebar, is responsible for dealing directly with Mayo media on behalf of Mr Kenny with the aim of enhancing his public image ahead of next year's election.
In January, his appointment as 'personal assistant' was approved and Mr O'Donnell signed a disclaimer to say he was not related to Mr Kenny.
A spokesman for the Taoiseach confirmed Mr O'Donnell's appointment and insisted he was "eminently qualified" for €50,204-a-year position.
"Jack O'Donnell was appointed as a personal assistant to the Taoiseach. His responsibilities include liaison with local media and providing advice on social media," the spokesman said.
Mr O'Donnell is the former vice chairman of Young Fine Gael in Castlebar and supported the Taoiseach's secretarial assistant Ger Deere's failed attempt to be put on the Fine Gael ticket for last year's local election.
The Taoiseach's new aide worked as former US presidential candidate John McCain's intern and as an Irish representative on President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker's election campaign.
He also has a UCD Law Degree and was a participant in the Washington-Ireland Internship Programme.
A Fine Gael source claimed the appointment was made on the back of internal research suggesting Mr Kenny was losing support in his constituency.
"There must have been a poll, we've started that now, and the boss-man would be high up on that list," a source said.
"Enda was going around white as a sheet after Christmas and then your man arrived. O'Donnell's well qualified for sure, from the Young Fine Gael set and from Enda's home town," the source added.
Another Mayo source added: "Something surely spooked Enda, he had all the local media in for lunch around Christmas and now this."
Though he is not tipped to lose his seat, political sources across the board are of the view Mr Kenny failed to deliver for Mayo since becoming Taoiseach.
"The problem for Enda is not that he would lose his seat but that he might end up coming in behind Michael Ring, and that would be a desperate embarrassment," a source said.
The Taoiseach has a backroom of special advisors which costs the State more than €550,000 a year, according to most recent figures. Fine Gael also has a significant internal war chest to fight the next election.