Varadkar sparks election talk after friend gets top taxpayer-funded job
Speculation at 'bulking up' of constituency staff
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has appointed a Fine Gael councillor to a new taxpayer-funded position on his constituency team, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Ted Leddy, who is a close personal friend of the Taoiseach, was appointed to the position in the last fortnight, sparking speculation that Mr Varadkar is bulking up his constituency staff ahead of a general election.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent can also reveal that an extra 10 special advisers have been appointed to Government since Mr Varadkar became Taoiseach last June.
During the last months of Enda Kenny's tenure there were a total of 45 special advisers across all government departments.
However, new figures supplied by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform show there are now at least 55 special advisers working in Mr Varadkar's government.
The total bill for advisers under the current Taoiseach is €4.5m. The department did not provide figures for Mr Kenny's tenure.
Government press and policy advisers are paid between €65,000 and €110,000 depending on their seniority and position.
The increase comes from a growing number of ministers of State appointing advisers. During the Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition, Mr Kenny banned junior ministers in his party from appointing advisers in the majority of circumstances.
It is understood some Fine Gael ministers of State pointed out that every member of the Independent Alliance in government had special advisers.
A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said overall there were fewer staff working in the Department of the Taoiseach than when Mr Kenny was the Fine Gael leader.
In total, Mr Kenny had 14 staff, costing €1.2m, while Mr Varadkar has 11 staff at a cost of €1.08m, the spokesman said. The current Taoiseach has seven special advisers working in his private office. His predecessor had four.
"The advisory capacity of the Taoiseach's private office has been increased without increasing the total salary costs for politically appointed staff working in the Department of the Taoiseach," he said.
"The staffing levels in the Taoiseach's private office are in line with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's instructions on ministerial appointments for the 32nd Dail.
"The special advisers working in the Department of the Taoiseach provide briefings and advice on a wide range of policy matters, as well as performing other functions as the Taoiseach may direct from time to time.
"They also liaise with other special advisers in each government department so that the Taoiseach remains informed on developments across government," the spokesman added.
Mr Leddy's appointment is in addition to the increased number of advisers.
The Fingal county councillor's work will focus on constituency matters but he also has an office in Government Buildings.
He is a new addition to the Taoiseach's constituency staff and is not replacing another employee.
The Taoiseach's spokesman also said Mr Leddy was the best-placed candidate for the new constituency position as he is a local representative in Mr Varadkar's Dublin West constituency.
He said the councillor would be paid from an Oireachtas staff budget rather than the Department of the Taoiseach.
He would not say how much Mr Leddy was being paid for the position.