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TDs' disbelief over more pay rises for advisors

ATTEMPTS by Fine Gael Government ministers to give their advisors fresh pay rises have been met with disbelief by backbench TDs.

One TD even stormed out of a meeting of the party last night when it was suggested giving the spin doctors and advisors more money.

The meeting descended into chaos as backbenchers clashed with ministers over pay for their advisors.

Ministers James Reilly, Simon Coveney and Michael Ring put up a staunch defence of the pay which is supposed to be capped at €92,672.

However one minister told the Herald today that the cap was was set "too low" and therefore needed to be breached six times in order to hire the best people.

Backbenchers are outraged that a number of special advisers on salaries in excess of €80,000 will be entitled to a series of pay increases over the Government's lifetime. Should the Fine Gael-Labour coalition run its full five-year term, their salaries will be up to €12,000 higher by the end of it.

At one point, firebrand backbencher James Bannon stormed out of the meeting in protest after an exchange with chairman Charlie Flanagan.

A minister admitted to the Herald today that members were "furious" about the pay for advisors.

"I don't blame them but there are two counter arguments. Ministers do need them [advisors]. They need somebody who has their back at all times.

"The problem is that the cap should never have been set. It was too low."

The loud dispute started after a motion from Dublin Mid West TD Derek Keating based on recent "media coverage" of pay deals to advisers.

He told the meeting that the pay increases were "wrong" and "sent out the wrong message" to the public.

Mr Bannon stormed out of the meeting after a row with parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan.

"He launched an attack about the whole pay situation and Charlie tried to lighten the mood a bit with a joke but that just made the whole thing worse and James stormed out," explained one person present.

Speaking to the Herald today, Mr Bannon said he walked out of the meeting in "pure disgust".

"People are suffering tremendously and I warned the party that we would be cripple at the next election if we don't change our ways," he said.

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.

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.