Saturday 16 December 2017

New row over pay top-ups for junior ministers, as one minister may have to repay a year’s allowance

Demoted Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor will not get a pay top-up

Brendan Howlin TD.
Brendan Howlin TD.
John Downing

John Downing

Government minister, Regina Doherty, may have to pay back an allowance of €15,829 per year already paid to her – and the Taoiseach may also have to decide which two of his four “super junior” ministers will not receive a €16,000 per year pay top-up.

That was what former Public Expenditure Minister, Brendan Howlin, told the Dáil as he raised questions about the legality of pay top-ups for extra super-junior ministers given special status and allowances to attend Cabinet meetings.

The Taoiseach replied that he would study the matter and would if necessary seek a repayment of money overpaid.  Mr Varadkar also signalled that two of the four super-juniors attending Cabinet, including demoted minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, will not get a pay top-up.

Mr Howlin said there was already special legislation in place to cover pay top-ups for two super junior ministers. He said that in May 2016 the then-Taoiseach appointed a third super-junior, Regina Doherty, to the post of government chief whip.

The Labour leader said that a “party whip allowance” was used as a means to pay Ms Doherty €15,829 per year effectively meaning she was paid as the Fine Gael chief whip.  But he believed that this was an illegal means of payment – and the money, which was paid for 13 months, should now be repaid by Ms Doherty.

“This might seem like a technical and minor matter. However, under the law, no allowance may be paid to a party whip if that person is a minister or a minister of state,” Mr Howlin insisted.

Mr Howlin also said that the same device could not be used to pay two new super juniors appointed by the Taoiseach last week. He asked the Taoiseach which two of the four super-juniors would get the money – and which two would not.

“This is a mess originally started by your predecessor as Taoiseach. But in seeking to create more jobs for Fine Gael deputies in this house – you've made it worse,” Mr Howlin said.

The Labour leader also said the Taoiseach could bring in special legislation to regularise all of this – but it would not pass because Labour and other parties had said they would oppose it.  He still wanted to know if attempts would be made to fast-track such legislation through the Dáil as a matter of priority.

The Taoiseach said he believed that it was a long-standing practice to pay an allowance to the government chief whip – just as similar payments were made to other party whips. “But I’ll certainly examine the matter further and make whatever changes or recoveries are necessary,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar added that the super-junior ministers appointed to attend at Cabinet were not there to get  special allowances. He praised the new super junior at the Education Department, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and said she was ideally suited to the job as a former school principal.

But Mr Varadkar also said there would be no legislation to approve pay top-ups. He said all priority legislation would have a direct impact on ordinary people’s lives.

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