Taoiseach does U-turn on staff for ministers
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny did another U-turn last night by allowing ministers to keep more personal staff working in their constituency offices.
Fine Gael brought a motion before the Dail two years ago to limit ministers to just two constituency staff for dealing with voter queries.
But last night the Cabinet announced cutbacks that will result in ministers keeping four staff each in their constituency office (down from six) and junior ministers keeping three each (down from five).
The number of extra staff assigned to ministers' constituency offices is considered a huge perk of the job -- because it gives ministers a big advantage over backbench TDs in the constituency.
Just two years ago, Fine Gael's environment spokesman Phil Hogan (now Environment Minister) criticised the fact that ministers had enormous resources and contributions "that people on this side of the House would love to have".
Although Mr Kenny and Mr Hogan personally voted in favour of the private members' motion, it was defeated by 77 votes to 72.
It is the second time in a week that the Fine Gael-led Government has rowed back on political reform commitments made in opposition.
Last week, the Government announced the appointment of 15 junior ministers -- after Fine Gael had promised to reduce the number to 12.
Cabinet ministers will be entitled to a maximum of 12 staff (eight in their private office and four in their constituency office), compared to 16 previously.
And junior ministers will be entitled to eight staff (five in their private office and three in their constituency office) compared to 12 previously.
The number of staff employed will drop from 300 to 180 to save at least €2.6m from the €11.8m annual wage bill.
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said it was the beginning of the Government's commitment to reform how the public service operates.
The Cabinet also decided yesterday to slash the number of special advisers.
All but two of the 15 junior ministers will be banned from hiring a special adviser to save at least €1m annually in salary costs.
And in another change, the Cabinet decided yesterday that the salaries for the positions will be capped at around €80,000 in all but "exceptional circumstances".
In the past, the salaries of some special advisers exceeded €100,000 and rose to almost €230,000 in the case of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's special adviser Gerry Hickey.