Thursday 24 January 2019

Junior minister lands €13k salary hike for her new press adviser

Deal was sought to raise the salary of the former TV3 executive

Junior minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Junior minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor

Fine Gael junior minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor lobbied the Department of Public Expenditure in order to secure a bump up of almost €13,000 in the salary of her new press adviser, the Irish Independent has learned.

New correspondence reveals how an official for Ms Mitchell O'Connor argued that the salary offered to former TV3 boss Lynda McQuaid was too low and should be increased in line with her former earnings at Ballymount.

The original salary offered to Ms McQuaid was just under €82,000 - the first point of the principal officer scale which is paid to the vast majority of Government press advisers.

But after submitting documentation from her accountant, a department official asked Paschal Donohoe's department to increase the salary to €94,521.

This equates to the fifth point of the principal officer scale, and brings Ms McQuaid's salary in line with that of Ms Mitchell O'Connor's other special adviser, Roy Dooney.


Press adviser Lynda McQuaid. Photo: Brian McEvoy
Press adviser Lynda McQuaid. Photo: Brian McEvoy

Both Ms McQuaid and Mr Dooney earn significantly more than the special advisers to Richard Bruton, the senior Cabinet minister in the Department of Education. Ms Mitchell O'Connor is a minister of State. However, she attends Cabinet meetings.

In the letter, released to this newspaper following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, her official said the department "therefore feels that with the particular expertise Ms McQuaid will bring to the post, the salary offered for the position should be more proximate to [what] she previously earned".

In the response, the Department of Public Expenditure said that while appointments should normally be on the first point of scale, the secretary general of the relevant department has the discretion to approve a higher salary. This approval was secured, and the additional money was found in the department's budget.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the department said Ms McQuaid's salary was in line with her expertise and her previous earnings.

"The Department of Education acts in accordance with guidelines for the appointment of special advisers as published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform," the spokeswoman said.

"As a general principle, the human resources unit of the department offers the first point on the principal officer incremental pay scale.

"The department offered Ms McQuaid the fifth point on the principal officer incremental pay scale, having regard to both her expertise in the field of media and communications and her previous earnings."

Ms Mitchell O'Connor has lost a number of special advisers since being appointed as a minister.

Former adviser to Labour's Alan Kelly, Jim McGrath left his post as policy adviser to Ms Mitchell O'Connor after a few months for a new position in the private sector.

Former TV3 news anchor Alan Cantwell also departed after a tumultuous period in the job. Another press adviser, Ellen Lynch, also stepped down last year.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor, a TD for Dún Laoghaire, found herself at the centre of a separate controversy involving her own pay last year.

A report from the Department of Public Expenditure concluded she was not entitled to receive a €16,288 top-up that is paid to other ministers of State who attend Cabinet meetings.

The report found that the payment should only be paid to two ministers of State.

As Finian McGrath and Paul Kehoe already received the payment, Ms Mitchell O'Connor was deemed to be ineligible for it.

She said publicly that she was happy to forego the payment.

Irish Independent

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