Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty may be forced to pay back an allowance she received as Government chief whip as doubts remain over whether she was ever entitled to it.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will look into Ms Doherty’s possible overpayment and would “make whatever changes or recoveries are necessary”.
Mr Vardkar has also told the Dáil that he will not be prioritising any legislation to give Mary Mitchell O’Connor a super junior allowance.
Ms Mitchell O’Connor, who was left disappointed after her demotion last week, cannot be paid a €15,829 allowance unless a law to change the number of super junior ministers is introduced.
Mr Varadkar said: “My intention is that all ministers of state who attend the Cabinet should be paid the same salary, but if this requires legislation, it will not be priority legislation.
He added: “The interest of the ministers who sit around my Cabinet table is not in salaries and allowances, so I will not prioritise any legislation to afford an allowance that does not already exist.
“The focus of this Government will be on getting through legislation that matters to the people and members of the public. I will not introduce legislation at an early stage to provide any additional allowances to any politician.”
Labour leader Brendan Howlin pressed the Taoiseach on the top-ups given to Ms Doherty when she held the position of Government chief whip — or minister of state at the Department of the Taoiseach — claiming they were “unlawful”.
He pointed out that Ms Doherty had been paid for her responsibilities as Fine Gael whip but he said that under the law no allowance can be paid to a party whip, if that person is a minister or a minister of state.
“This means that one cannot pay such an allowance to the new Government chief whip. It also means that an illegal overpayment has been made to Deputy Doherty.
“This is a mess that was started by the Taoiseach’s predecessor, but in seeking to create additional jobs for Fine Gael deputies in this House, he has made it worse.”
Mr Howlin then asked the Taoiseach if he accepted that an illegal payment was made and if he intends to recover this overpayment.
Mr Varadkar said it was a longstanding practice that chief whips had an allowance. “I do not accept that the payment of a chief whip’s allowance or any allowances paid to whips in this House is somehow illegal but I will examine the matter further and make whatever changes or recoveries are necessary if what the Deputy says is correct,” the Taoiseach said.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams also raised Ms Mitchell O’Connor’s appointment as a minister of state in the Department of Education jokingly describing it as “more new politics”.
Mr Adams said: “Super junior ministers are paid an extra €15,829 for attendance at Cabinet meetings. In the past, a brand new allowance was invented to top up the chief whip, Deputy Regina Doherty’s salary to attend Cabinet meetings. When Deputy Paul Kehoe was chief whip he was paid a bonus for this privilege.
“Clearly, where there is a will, there is a way, but it is hardly new politics. In his republic of opportunity, I am sure the Taoiseach will look after his new super-duper junior minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor.”
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