Thursday 21 November 2019

Minister won pay deal for spin doctor €6,000 above salary cap

Regina Doherty. Picture: Doug O'Connor
Regina Doherty. Picture: Doug O'Connor
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty was able to land a pay deal for her spin doctor that breaches the Government's own cap on salaries for special advisers.

Ms Doherty's media adviser Alex Connolly was appointed last October on a salary of €107,109 - which is €6,000 more than the salary restriction that is in place for Cabinet ministers' special advisers.

The Fine Gael minister's department secured approval from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) to employ Mr Connolly on the same salary he earned as Fáilte Ireland's head of communications - a job he will return to if Ms Doherty is no longer in Cabinet.

According to figures published by DPER, Mr Connolly earns more than any other special adviser across the Government, outside of the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr Connolly earns over €20,000 more than the average salary of press and media advisers for other ministers - which stands at around €86,000. He is paid nearly €10,000 more than Tánaiste Simon Coveney's media adviser, former Newstalk presenter Chris Donoghue.

A DPER spokeswoman confirmed that the special adviser salary cap is currently set at €101,114.

It was previously set at around €92,000 with several Cabinet ministers in the last Fine Gael-led government securing special approval from DPER to breach the cap.

However, salaries for special advisers have increased in recent years as part of the public service pay deal, which has incrementally restored pay for public servants who had their salaries cut during the financial crash.

Cabinet ministers are entitled to appoint two special advisers - one to cover policy and another to handle press and media.

Most advisers appointed since the current Government came to office in 2016 are on salaries of between €79,000 and €98,000. The salary restrictions on special advisers do not apply to those working for the Taoiseach or Tánaiste.

Mr Connolly, who was formerly head of the HSE's national press office, is on secondment from Fáilte Ireland. Ms Doherty sought the approval of Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's department to ensure he could work as her spin doctor on the same salary he was on in the State's tourism agency.

A spokesperson for the Department of Employment and Social Protection said: "In accordance with normal practice for secondment of public servants, Mr Connolly was seconded from Fáilte Ireland on his existing salary to this department to take up the position of special adviser to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. His secondment will end when the minister ceases office and he will return to Fáilte Ireland.

"In accordance with the rules governing the appointment of special advisers to the minister, the department sought and received sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to second Mr Connolly to the department on his existing salary."

Mr Connolly has been replaced at Fáilte Ireland by Suzanne Coogan, who advised Denis Naughten when he was communications minister.

Irish Independent

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