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TDs break cronyism pledge by giving jobs to family members

A SWATHE of government ministers and TDs are employing family members as staff despite pre-election promises to end cronyism.

And two ministers have hired two family members each in their departmental staff, the Irish Independent has learned.

A survey by this paper found that at least 25 TDs -- out of 166 in the Dail -- had hired family members.

Despite a Fine Gael pledge to end cronyism, Training and Skills Minister Ciaran Cannon has hired his wife as his secretary and his brother-in-law as one of his drivers.

The job of personal secretary to the minister, held by Mr Cannon's wife Niamh Lawless, comes with a salary of between €23,000 and €47,000.

The civilian driver's post comes with a €35,000 salary, and junior ministers are allowed to hire two drivers each. Mr Cannon did not return calls, but during the election campaign he said Fine Gael would "fix our political system and sweep away the culture of cronyism".

And junior agriculture minister Shane McEntee's daughter and sister are job-sharing his personal assistant post, splitting the €44,000 salary between them, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Efforts to contact Mr McEntee were unsuccessful last night.

The details of the number of politicians who have hired family members will attract fury at a time when 440,000 people are unemployed.

The Irish Independent has also learned that the newly elected TD nephew of former Tanaiste Dick Spring has ignored recommendations from the Labour leadership not to hire family members as Oireachtas staff.

The Irish Independent has also learned that the newly elected TD nephew of former Tanaiste Dick Spring has ignored recommendations from the Labour leadership not to hire family members as Oireachtas staff.

Kerry North's Arthur Spring -- who worked as a parliamentary assistant for his uncle Dick -- has now hired his brother Graham as his own parliamentary assistant, a post with a salary of between €41,000 and €52,000.

The move comes despite Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore telling TDs not to hire family members as part of their staff or put them on their vacated council seats, but Mr Spring last night defended the appointment, and said his brother was "the best person for the job".

"I'm hiring people myself and I guess, as you know, there's more than myself that have hired people from within family realms," he said.

He said he knew of the recommendations from the Labour hierarchy, but insisted he would still hire his brother "10 times over".

The Fine Gael ministerial pair are among a number of ministers who employ family members -- Labour's Kathleen Lynch, a junior health minister, employs her husband Bernard as her personal assistant; junior enterprise minister Sean Sherlock's sister works in his office; and super-junior minister Willie Penrose employs his brother, Johnny.

The ministers defended the appointments, saying they brought their families over with them from their Oireachtas offices, where they were previously hired as TDs' assistants.


The hiring of the parliamentary and ministerial staff is a matter for TDs themselves, but political parties have been sensitive about how it looks in the midst of an unemployment crisis.

Mr Cannon's office said his wife worked for him since 2007 -- when, as a Progressive Democrat, he was nominated to the Seanad by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. However, Ms Lawless now has the title of "personal secretary to the minister".

Even though a TD decides who to hire, candidates for the jobs have to show they are competent and are vetted by an external HR company. Junior ministers are allowed to hire five people in their private offices and another three in their constituency offices.

Other TDs who have also hired family members include:

> Fine Gael Waterford TD Paudie Coffey, whose wife Suzanne is his part-time secretarial assistant.

> Fine Gael Louth TD and county football manager Peter Fitzpatrick, whose daughter Grace is his secretarial assistant, a position that comes with a salary of around €23,000.

> Fianna Fail Laois-Offaly TD Sean Fleming employs his wife Mary as his part-time parliamentary assistant.

> Independent TD Mattie McGrath has his daughter Triona and niece Kathy sharing the job of his parliamentary assistant.

There was acute embarrassment within Fine Gael when the Irish Independent previously revealed that Kerry South TD Brendan Griffin -- who had promised during the election campaign to give up half his salary -- hired his wife Roisin as his secretarial assistant, his cousin Tommy Griffin as his parliamentary assistant and helped another cousin, Matt Griffin, get his old council seat.

Another TD, Dublin North's Alan Farrell, also caused embarrassment when he hired his wife Emma Doyle as a parliamentary assistant, although he later claimed that this was a temporary appointment.

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