Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended Eamon Ryan’s appointment of his former special adviser and an ex-Green Party election candidate to €9,800-a-year positions on the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) without an open competition.
Mr Martin was responding to calls from Sinn Féin for the Environment Minister to make a statement in the Dáil about the process which led to the appointments of Professor Morgan D Bazilian and Dr Cara Augustenborg as members of the CCAC.
Members of the council receive an annual fee of €9,800 as well as travel and subsistence expenses in line with public service rates. They were two of four appointments made by Mr Ryan to the CCAC in October.
Sinn Féin whip Pádraig MacLochlainn demanded Mr Ryan, who is attending the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, explain the appointments “at the earliest opportunity” and forced a vote on the Dáil’s order of business today.
Mr Martin defended his Coalition colleague and the appointments, however, saying: “I think it’s wrong to impugn the two individuals concerned, they’re people of considerable expertise in the field.”
The Fianna Fáil leader also made reference to Sinn Féin’s history of appointments to public bodies in the North, saying he was “really enthused” by the party’s concern “for close colleagues being appointed to positions of authority”.
Mr Martin said the issue had not been raised by Sinn Féin at a meeting of the Dáil business committee, but Mr MacLochlainn said it had only emerged over the weekend via newspaper reports.
The Government won the vote by 26 votes to 20 with one abstention.
The two CCAC appointments and their links to Mr Ryan and the Green Party were revealed in the Sunday Independent at the weekend.
Professor Bazilian was an adviser to Mr Ryan when he was communications minister in the Fianna Fáil-Green coalition over a decade ago, while Dr Augustenborg ran unsuccessfully for the Greens in the Shankill-Killiney ward of Dún Laoghaire as a Green Party nominee in the 2014 local elections. Dr Augustenborg has also frequently written in support of Mr Ryan and his actions in Government on social media.
The legislation that underpins the CCAC – the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 202 – does not contain a provision requiring any formal public appointment process in making such appointments.
However, the Oireachtas committee which carried out pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill last year before it became law, recommended that appointments to the council “should be through an open, competitive and transparent process”, while adding that “the ultimate appointment is made by the minister”.
“All four recent appointees fully met the requirements as set out for the appointment, defining the range of knowledge and relevant experiences deemed appropriate required under the two relevant Acts,” a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications said in a statement to the Sunday Independent.