A junior government minister today defended giving state-paid jobs to four members of his family during the past three years.
Rosommon-South Leitrim TD Michael Finneran admitted his son and daughter both shared official driving duties when his brother broke his ankle in an accident in July.
In addition, the Minister of State’s wife has been working as his constituency secretary since 1989 but has only been paid by the state since 2005.
Mr Finneran strongly criticised a bid by Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd to raise the issue during the Order of Business in the Dáil.
He accused Mr O’Dowd of “gutter politics” and claimed the Opposition TD was smarting from coming away second worse in a debate with him recently.
“He decides this morning to try to smear myself and my family. Two of my family were so gracious to help me out when I had an emergency. I think there is nothing wrong with that and I stand over it totally.”
In the Dáil earlier, Mr O’Dowd didn’t name Mr Finneran when he asked: “Is it appropriate that a junior minister in the Government should appoint five special advisors, of whom four are family members?
“Is is in order that this Government should allow that to happen? This is the place to raise this issue. Is it right and proper that this should happen?”
As Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue ruled the issue out of order, Mr O’Dowd continued: “We will have unemployment of 325,000 next year – that is one person losing their job every three minutes in this country.”
Mr Finneran said confidentiality and availability was important in recruiting staff in his role as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas.
“Who would work for nothing from 1989 to 2005 other than somebody who was close to yourself, like your wife? My brother was available to take over as my driver when I was appointed Minister of State. He is a very appropriate person because he is loyal to me,” he told RTE Radio.
He added: “This was an attempt by Deputy Fergus O’Dowd on the Order of Business to smear somebody when one of my drivers had an accident.”
Mr Finneran said that his brother Brendan, who was his full-time driver, broke his ankle in an accident in July and was replaced by his daughter who drove the junior minister’s car for 11 days and his son took over the role since then.
“I understand the [brother’s] physiotherapy is nearly complete,” he added.