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Fury as Coveney flouts rules to pay spin doctor €110k

ANOTHER Government minister has handed his spin doctor a six-figure paycheck.

Simon Coveney has become the sixth Cabinet member to breach the Government's own rules in securing a staggering pay deal for his special adviser.

It has emerged today that the Agriculture Minister fought to award an extraordinary €110,000 salary to qualified dental surgeon Ross Mac Mathuna.

And the Herald has learned that this is the second time in the space of months that the Fine Gael politician has shunned the country's financial woes in awarding extra perks to advisers.

Six senior ministers have now broken the rules and awarded salaries above the €92,600 Government-imposed limit.

This means the taxpayer is forking out more than €681,000 per year for the six special aides alone.

The news has sparked outrage today, with one independent TD describing the awarding of the pay deals as a "betrayal".

And it is yet another indication that ministers are ignoring their own set of rules in order to please their closest aides.

The Herald can reveal that it is the second time in just a few months that Mr Coveney breached the pay cap for one of his aides.

His former adviser Fergal Leamy was on €130,000 but quit after just five months.

He was replaced by Mr Mac Mathuna.

Having breached the pay cap when appointing Mr Leamy, the minister repeated the move just months later when Mr Mac Mathuna was installed.

The agriculture expert was installed in January, having previously worked for Glanbia and consultancy firm McKinsey.

A spokesperson for Mr Coveney today said that the two men's experience justified the move.

"The Guidelines on Staffing of Ministerial Offices provide that Special Advisers be placed on the first point of the Principal Officer scale except where the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, with the agreement of the Minister for Finance, sanctions a higher salary rate.

"Given Mr Mac Mathuna's previous salary and experience in the agri food industry, remuneration at a higher rate was approved. Similar circumstances applied in Mr Leamy's case."

The controversy surrounding advisers' salaries surfaced late last year when it emerged the Taoiseach intervened to secure a €127,000 pay deal for his close friend Ciaran Conlon.

Mr Conlon, adviser to Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, was handed a 37pc pay hike in March -- just days after Enda Kenny promised to end the 'jobs for the boys' era.

And despite being charged with not looking after the country's most vulnerable, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton fought for a €127,796 package for her aide, Ed Brophy -- €35,000 more than the Government pay cap.

Six senior ministers have now broken the rules, including Leo Varadkar and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin. Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte also breached the pay cap in securing a €97,200 salary for former Travel Agents boss Simon Nugent.

The news that almost half the Cabinet have breached the pay cap sparked outrage among the opposition today.

Independent TD for Waterford John Halligan said it marked a "betrayal" of the Irish people.

"These ministers have one rule for themselves and one rule for everybody else. What would happen if the opposition turned round and wanted to hike the salaries of their secretaries, they'd be told where to go.

"It's a national scandal. To think the pay deals were secured as ministers were looking at ways to cut welfare and other services is nothing short of sickening."