Fianna Fáil has been accused of being “sexist” by targeting super junior minister Mary Mitchell-O’Connor and demanding that her ministerial top-up pay be scrapped.
Junior jobs minister John Halligan also said that if one super junior minister’s pay should be cut, so should the wages of the other two super juniors, including his own colleague Finian McGrath.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Halligan said Fianna Fáil was picking on a woman by criticising Ms Mitchell-Connor, who was kept at Cabinet by the new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after his reshuffle this year.
Mr Halligan, who oversees training and skills in the Department of Jobs, where Ms Mitchell-O’Connor was senior minister until her recent demotion to a junior in education, defended her position.
“I’ve worked with her, she is always courteous to me,” he said. “There may have been some difficulties in her department, I don’t know. I do fundamentally disagree with Fianna Fáil saying that she shouldn’t get the pay as a junior minister. Why are they picking on a woman?”
Asked if he thought the criticisms of Ms Mitchell-O’Connor’s retention at Cabinet and calls by Fianna Fáil for her €16,288 top-up as a super junior to be scrapped were therefore sexist, Mr Halligan said: “I think it is. Because why would they pick [on her]? How many super juniors are there? Why would they pick one?
“If it was me, I would be saying I don’t think any super junior minister [should get it]. Either you give it to them all or give it to none.”
Mr Halligan’s remarks will likely irritate his Independent Alliance colleague, super junior minister for disabilities Finian McGrath, who also gets the €16,288 annual top up for sitting at Cabinet.
The other super junior minister is Paul Kehoe, whose remit is defence. The Government says that Joe McHugh, the chief whip and minister who sits at Cabinet, is not a super junior.
While the junior ministers are able to attend Cabinet, they cannot vote on matters. Special legislation is also needed for super juniors to get their wage top-ups.
Some members of Fianna Fáil have suggested that Ms Mitchell-O’Connor should not have been kept at Cabinet, especially after reports that she argued for her role in the recent reshuffle.
Asked if the Fine Gael minister had deserved to be retained at Cabinet, Mr Halligan answered: “I can’t say that, that would have to be for Leo Varadkar.
“I worked with her out of two different offices. I found with her, if she was asked to do anything, she would do it.
“I’m sure if you ask 10 different people, ‘am I doing a good job?’, some would say yes you are, some would say not at the end of the day.
“I think the decision that Leo made, he made it based on what was the right thing to do. I think she should be given her opportunity at this. I think she should be paid the salary that she is entitled to be paid or take the salary away from all of them together. They [Fianna Fáil] have given no logical explanation as to why they picked on Mary Mitchell-O’Connor.
“I know she has been under pressure and would have been naturally disappointed. I really do think that FF should back off on that.”
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