Burton contradicts colleagues over caps on maximum pay


A SENIOR Labour Minister has differed from colleagues on what was the biggest issue raised with party TDs and Senators on doorsteps during the recent referendum campaign.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said that pay for special advisers was mentioned far less frequently by Labour supporters than other issues, particularly the failure to bring any banker to account for the crash in the financial industry.

A day after Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn admitted that the Government had handled the issue of maximum pay caps for special advisers badly, Ms Burton questioned if it was as central an issue for the party in Government as a survey of Labour parliamentarians concluded.

Instead, she said issues that cropped up more frequently included the lack of sanctions against bankers, lack of accountability for the banking collapse; high salaries and excessive retirement packages for the upper tiers of the public service.

“I had an opportunity to meet people, as Labour’s director of elections for the referendum, as I travelled around Ireland.

“I got a couple of complaints continuously. Top of the list was the bankers and why nobody was taken to account for the collapse.

“Then there were bankers and developers swanning around on large salaries as well as the extra-large retirement packages for two categories – senior public servants and former ministers.

“They were the three top things, followed by unemployment and emigration. The issue around special advisers’ pay was mentioned but not as much.”

One of Ms Burton’s special advisers is the highest-earning departmental adviser. Edward Brophy, a former senior associate with Arthur Cox solicitors, earns €127,796, some €35,000 more than the pay cap of €92,672.

Ms Burton said Mr Brophy took a “significant reduction in pay” to take up the position in her office.

She said the actual cost of her ministerial office was significantly below that of almost all other departments and pointed out that there was no Minister of State attached to the Department of Social Protection which, with a budget of €20 billion, was the biggest spending department.

In an interview with The Irish Times on Monday, Mr Quinn said the Government had handled the pay cap issue badly.

“That was because we set a bar for pay that we broke ourselves,” he said.

He added that the Government should have probably set a more realistic level of remuneration.