Monday 23 April 2018

Ministers' 45 advisers set to get increases in salaries

Chris Donoghue left Newstalk to work for Simon Coveney
Chris Donoghue left Newstalk to work for Simon Coveney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A €4m team of advisers to the Government are to receive pay rises, the Irish Independent has learned.

The policy and media advisers, who are paid between €65,000 and €110,000, are political appointees and operate separately from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's controversial Strategic Communications Unit.

The 45-strong team includes former Newstalk presenter Chris Donoghue, who was recently appointed as a media adviser to Tánaiste Simon Coveney, on a salary of €98,391.

Increases range from €650 a year up to €1,100, depending on the advisers' salary.

The majority of the advisers to benefit from the pay hike work for Mr Varadkar and his Fine Gael ministers.

However, eight owe their employment to the Independent Alliance's participation in Government, while Independent ministers Katherine Zappone and Denis Naughten have two advisers each.

Although they are not civil servants, the advisers are entitled to pay restoration, as was agreed between public sector unions and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe last year.

A spokesman for Mr Donohoe's department said they were considered "unestablished civil servants for the duration of their tenure".

"These pay increases are part of the unwinding process of the FEMPI legislation," he said.

He added that their "contract should state that the term of office of the special adviser shall cease on the date on which the minister ceases to be a minister of the Government".

According to a list provided by the Department of Public Expenditure, Mr Varadkar has seven advisers reporting directly to him. These include a speech writer, Brexit adviser and the chief government spokesman.

Since taking over as Tánaiste, Simon Coveney has bulked up his backroom team by recruiting Mr Donoghue from Newstalk. He has been placed on a principal officer salary scale, at a rate of €98,391 per year. This makes him among the better-paid advisers, although his pension entitlements would be significantly less than colleagues who have been in position since before 2013.

The Irish Independent understands, however, that his pay in the Department of Foreign Affairs is less than he was earning as a presenter with Newstalk.

Mr Coveney has also recently hired Matthew Lynch, who was a policy adviser for Frances Fitzgerald until she resigned in November.

Meanwhile, John Keogh, a former Newstalk colleague of Mr Donoghue, took up the position of adviser to newly appointed Culture Minister Josepha Madigan last week.

On top of the advisers assigned to senior ministers, special arrangements have been put in place for eight of the 19 junior ministers.

Independent ministers of State Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran have advisers, along with Helen McEntee, Jim Daly, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Paul Kehoe and Joe McHugh.

Political advisers have always been a feature of government, but in recent months Fianna Fáil has tried to portray Mr Varadkar as being obsessed with the Government's media image.

October's Budget set aside €5m for the new Strategic Communication Unit, which Mr Varadkar insists acts entirely independently of political influence.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Irish Independent he was "genuinely very, very concerned" about the unit.

"We think it is developing as a propaganda unit for the Government, as opposed to an information service for the public," he said.

Irish Independent

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