Monday 20 November 2017

Row among Independents sees €90k job unfilled for months

Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A row between the Independent members of Cabinet is causing serious friction within the partnership Government and preventing a €90,000 job from being filled.

Shane Ross's Independent Alliance is locked in a dispute with Katherine Zappone and Denis Naughten over the appointment of a Deputy Government Press Secretary.

The prestigious job has traditionally involved acting as a spokesperson for the junior party in a coalition.

However, the inclusion of Independents in the Cabinet has resulted in a new dynamic, and sources say it would be "impossible" for one person to fairly represent the Alliance and ministers Zappone and Naughten.

The Taoiseach's office signed off on funding for the position over two months ago but a source said the process "is going nowhere".

Fine Gael officials are becoming increasingly annoyed at the delay, believing that it is undermining the Government's efforts to effectively communicate their work.

"They need to get on with it. The business of government needs to be communicated and there needs to be unity of thought and unity of action," said a party source.

It is understood the Alliance, which has five TDs, believed it was entitled to appoint a person to the post but was blocked by the two other ministers.

"Look at what happened with the recent debate over abortion. How could one person brief the media on the views of all the Independents," said a source.

After accepting that a consensus would be needed, Shane Ross, pictured inset, is understood to have demanded that the job be advertised but the other ministers would prefer to headhunt a suitable candidate, as has generally happened in the past.

"Ross wants control over the process but in reality he is the only senior minister from the Independent Alliance. The press secretary speaks for ministers, not TDs," said a source.

The Irish Independent understands that ministers Zappone and Naughten have dug their heels in, noting that the Independent Alliance has also been granted funding for a liaison officer, who will be a point of contact between its TDs and Fine Gael. The job is advertised on its website, and the successful candidate will also be expected to "promote the work of its Oireachtas members". It comes with a salary of between €79,401 and €91,624. "That person will be a de facto press officer for them so this row is needless," said one source familiar with the process.

In Fine Gael patience is running thin, with one official saying they would expect plenty of candidates would be willing to take up the press secretary job. "Anyone with any degree of decisiveness would probably look like a rock star," the source said.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach's personal assistant, Jack O'Donnell, has been promoted to Assistant Government Press Secretary. He is to manage the Taoiseach's public appearances. The previous office-holder was on a salary of €87,258.

Irish Independent

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