Saturday 24 February 2018

FF vows to block law allowing top-up of minister's wage

Mary Mitchell O'Connor Photo: Tom Burke
Mary Mitchell O'Connor Photo: Tom Burke

Cormac McQuinn and Philip Ryan

Fianna Fáil has warned that it will block legislation aimed at topping up Mary Mitchell O'Connor's TD salary to reflect her new 'super-junior' minister role.

The revelation that the law will have to be changed to allow for a €16,288-a-year allowance on top of the minister of State salary of €124,439 has provoked a storm of controversy. Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil's education spokesman, said the Government never consulted with his party over the appointment of an extra 'super-junior' minister to Cabinet and it came as a "considerable shock" to the party.

He added: "If there's legislation required in relation to pay, then we're not in a position to support it".

Meanwhile, a senior Fianna Fáil source said: "Two super juniors is quite adequate and it is not up to the Dáil to pass legislation to solve an internal Fine Gael demotion/promotion issue."

Read more: Fianna Fail will vote against Mary Mitchell O'Connor's super junior appointment

Under existing laws, a maximum of two ministers of State at the Cabinet table are entitled to an additional allowance to their salary.

Incumbent 'super juniors' - Defence Minister Paul Kehoe and Independent Alliance Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath - already fill such roles.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar demoted Ms Mitchell O'Connor from the senior Jobs portfolio and initially offered her a job with responsibility for equality and law reform.

When she expressed upset at this, Mr Varadkar offered her the post of junior minister for higher education.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar last night said: "Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor will receive the same salary as any other minister of State in attendance at Cabinet." He also said: "It's not a salary increase."

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed that new legislation was required for an extra allowance to be paid to a super-junior minister but said "any matter of legislation is a long way down the road".

He told RTÉ Radio that other laws were being prioritised. He defended Ms Mitchell O'Connor, saying that the former school principal has had a "life-long career and passion for education" and he can think of "few people who will be better qualified" for the role.

Read more: Demoted minister Mitchell O'Connor's €16,000 top-up to be passed by Dáil

Mr Donohoe said Ms Mitchell O'Connor is focusing on her new job, adding: "I think matters in relation to her own wages are the last thing on her mind at the moment."

Separately Mr Byrne said his party wanted "absolute clarity" on whether or not Ms Mitchell O'Connor would be delegated full powers for higher education.

Mr Byrne said he would be writing to both Education Minister Richard Bruton and to Ms Mitchell O'Connor to seek further details on this.

In particular, he wants to know who to liaise with in relation to the Technological Universities Bill, which Fianna Fáil has said it will help the Government get through the Oireachtas.

A Department of Education spokesman said that a delegation of functions order must be drawn up and that "this will be done as quickly as possible" in consultations with Mr Bruton and Ms Mitchell O'Connor.

He said the order would be submitted to Government for approval and published after that.

Irish Independent

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