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Ronald Quinlan: No austerity for Taoiseach when it comes to staff

DO as we say, not as we do. That's the message from the Government when it comes to the matter of ministers and their special advisers and the hefty sums they insist on paying them.

For while the rest of us groan under the weight of the austerity being imposed on Ireland by our European partners, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Cabinet insist on rubbing salt in the nation's gaping economic wounds, splashing out a jaw-dropping €3,387,879 on 36 highly paid special advisers.

In the case of nine of these individuals, Mr Kenny's ministers are compounding the taxpayers' injury by flouting the Government's own pay cap of €92,672 to reward them.

Setting a poor example is the Taoiseach himself. In an outright show of hypocrisy, Mr Kenny sanctions a salary of €168,00 for both his chief of staff Mark Kennelly and his special adviser Andrew McDowell. Defending those extraordinary salaries in the Dail last January, the Taoiseach compared them to the €221,929 that had been paid to his predecessor Brian Cowen's programme manager, Joe Lennon, in 2009.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is nearly as bad as Mr Kenny when it comes to breaching the €92,672 pay cap, rewarding his chief adviser Mark Garrett and economic adviser Colm O'Reardon with salaries of €168,000 and €155,000 respectively.

But while Messrs Kenny and Gilmore may be indifferent to the adage that two wrongs don't make a right, they aren't alone when it comes to splashing cash that the country just doesn't have on their backroom teams.

Arguably more egregious in breaking the Government's pay cap is Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin. Notwithstanding the coalition's claimed determination to cut costs, Mr Howlin sanctioned a salary of €114,000 for his adviser, Ronan O'Brien. To make matters even worse, Mr O'Brien's remuneration was very nearly set at €133,605, prior to the intervention of a civil servant who pointed out that such a decision would have been unwise.

Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Richard Bruton, meanwhile, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons last December after he enlisted the expertise of Fine Gael's former director of communications Ciaran Conlon as his special adviser.

As controversy raged over the appointment, it emerged that Taoiseach Enda Kenny had personally sanctioned Mr Conlon's salary of €127,000. Defending his intervention, Mr Kenny told the Dail that Mr Conlon had been on a salary "well in excess" of the Government's pay cap in the years he had worked for the Fine Gael party and had a "master's degree in economics and long experience of dealing with the ways in politics".

The Taoiseach said Mr Conlon had been "chosen by the Minister for Jobs and Enterprise for a specific purpose in getting people off the dole".

But while the employment of the former Fine Gael apparatchik sparked inevitable cries of cronyism from the ranks of the Opposition, when it comes to the matter of pay, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has managed to secure the highest salary outside of the offices of the Taoiseach and Tanaiste for her special adviser. Edward Brophy, a former senior associate with Arthur Cox solicitors, is paid €127,796, albeit without the entitlement to benefit-in-kind arrangements.

Elsewhere in Cabinet, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar's press adviser, Brian Murphy, receives a salary of €105,837, or €19,163 less than the €135,000 the minister had sought on his behalf.

Mr Murphy is a former director of commercial affairs with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association.

Sunday Independent