Elaine Loughlin: Opposition TDs are asking how Government special advisers are appointed

As we publish the latest information on 'spads' and their salaries, TDs call for a more transparent hiring process, and ask for clarity on what qualifies them to hold senior jobs paid for by the State
Elaine Loughlin: Opposition TDs are asking how Government special advisers are appointed

The latest information from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform reveals that the three Coalition party leaders and their ministers have hired a total of 63 special advisers earning salaries between €67,659 and €101,114. File picture

Opposition parties have called for greater transparency around how ministerial advisers are appointed to ensure those taking up positions are fully qualified.

The three Government leaders and their ministers have recruited an unprecedented number of advisers — or spads as they are known — to provide guidance on policy matters and to deal with the media.

 Former Fianna Fáil press director Pat McParland joined the Taoiseach's team of advisers and receives a salary of €139,628. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Former Fianna Fáil press director Pat McParland joined the Taoiseach's team of advisers and receives a salary of €139,628. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

As well as the 20 special advisers recruited by the three coalition leaders, a further 39 have been appointed by ministers and ministers of State.

When the Government press secretary, two deputies, and the Attorney General's appointee are included, the total number of staff comes to 63.

All of these advisers are appointed at the discretion of each line minister.

Micheál Martin

The Taoiseach has six politically-appointed staff, headed up by his chief of staff, Deirdre Gillane, who worked with him for many years in opposition and is on a salary of €180,276. 

Pat McParland, who previously acted as Fianna Fáil's press communications director, has also joined the Taoiseach's team, and receives a salary of €139,628.

Former broadcaster Chris Donoghue, now a special adviser to Simon Coveney on a salary just over €100,000. 
Former broadcaster Chris Donoghue, now a special adviser to Simon Coveney on a salary just over €100,000. 

Other members of the Taoiseach's background team include Lisa-Dee Collery, who also came from the Fianna Fáil press office, and economic adviser Alan Ahearne who is on secondment from NUIG. Mr Martin's staff pay bill comes to €583,626, but this does not include the wages of Mr Ahearne. As is the case with all ministerial advisers, this amount will increase every year the Government remains in place when annual increments kick in.

Leo Varadkar

The Tánaiste has retained almost an identical background team as he had as Taoiseach, with Sarah O'Neill who previously worked with Richard Bruton also coming on board. John Carroll, who had been a key background player and one of Mr Varadkar's closest aides, has taken over as Fine Gael general secretary following the retirement of Tom Curran.

One of Heather Humphreys' appointees, Pauric McPhillips, is among the special advisers being paid more than €100,000. Picture: Twitter
One of Heather Humphreys' appointees, Pauric McPhillips, is among the special advisers being paid more than €100,000. Picture: Twitter

The Tánaiste's highest-paid member of staff is Brian Murphy, who is on €171,263, followed by Angela Flanagan who is on €108,984.

Ms Flanagan was first recruited as an adviser to Enda Kenny in the 2011 administration.

Matt Lynch and Clare Mungovan are also on more than €100,000 having been appointed by the Tánaiste. Overall, €678,639 will be paid out to Leo Varadkar's team.

Eamon Ryan

Then Green Party leader John Gormley, general secretary Dónall Geoghegan, and former TD Dan Boyle arriving at Government Buildings in 2007 for talks on forming a Government with Fianna Fáil. Mr Geoghegan is now one of Eamon Ryan's two advisers on salaries of €139,628.
Then Green Party leader John Gormley, general secretary Dónall Geoghegan, and former TD Dan Boyle arriving at Government Buildings in 2007 for talks on forming a Government with Fianna Fáil. Mr Geoghegan is now one of Eamon Ryan's two advisers on salaries of €139,628.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has recruited eight special advisers, although two of these work part-time. His team will receive a total of €729,669 in wages according to the details published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Former Green Party staffer Dónall Geoghegan, who served as political adviser for ministers Katharine Zappone and Seán Canney in the last Government, has been taken on along with Leitrim GAA player Anna Conlon who previously was Mr Ryan's assistant.

Both are on an annual salary of €139,628.

Opposition call for clarity

Both Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats have called for greater clarity around how these appointments are made to ensure all advisers hold particular qualifications relevant to the position.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said: "I think I'd be more concerned about whether these people were properly qualified or not.

"It can be very difficult to implement new policies in a department unless you have support for pursuing those. A minister spends a lot of time out of their department and you need somebody back in the department ensuring that progress has been made if you are driving a reform programme," she said.

Sinn Féin's public expenditure spokesperson Mairéad Farrell said: "For overall public confidence there needs to be greater transparency."

The special advisers and their salaries

Others earning more than €100,000 include former journalists Paul Melia, Chris Donoghue, Fiach Kelly, and Susan Mitchell who are all on €101,114. Pauric McPhillips who has been taken on by justice minister Heather Humphreys, and Kevin Barrett who advises public expenditure minister Michael McGrath are also on this salary.

The Department of Public Expenditure has released the details of 48 policy and press advisers to date. The bill for these advisers comes to just €4.5m. However, another 11 spads have been recruited which brings the total to a minimum of €5.34m.

Some salaries not yet disclosed

Four of the advisers whose salaries have not yet been published have been recruited by senior ministers and the others have been taken on by ministers of State. Advisers taken on by a cabinet minister are put on the principal officer civil service pay scale, which currently starts at €89,072. Those who work with a junior minister are put on the assistant principal scale which now begins at €69,012.

However, many advisers do not start on the first rung of the scale as their pay can be determined by a number of factors, including their experience and the amount they were paid in their previous job.

A Department spokesperson said it is intended that the full list of salaries will be published shortly.

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