Six Government advisers paid over €92,672 cap
MINISTER FOR Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has approved breaches of the public-sector pay ceiling eight times since taking up the post in March last year.
Six of the breaches involved the appointment of advisers by Government Ministers. The others concerned the recruitment of chief executives of the ESB and VHI.
Three Labour ministers, including Mr Howlin, and three from Fine Gael, have appointed advisers whose pay exceeds the recommended €92,672 threshold, which is equivalent to the salary of the highest paid principal officers in the Civil Service.
Fine Gael and Labour said this week that the issue of advisers’ pay exceeding the thresholds set out in the programme for government was the main issue raised on doorsteps during the fiscal treaty campaign.
Responding to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Howlin revealed that, at €127,796, Edward Brophy, a former senior associate with Arthur Cox solicitors, was the highest paid of the advisers who received approval to breach the cap. He is special adviser to Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton.
Ciarán Conlon – special adviser to Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton – is paid €127,000 a year. He is a former Fine Gael communications director.
Mr Howlin’s special adviser, Ronan O’Brien, earns €114,000. He was previously chef de cabinet to Ruairí Quinn when the now Minister for Education was Labour leader.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney’s adviser Ross Mac Mathúna, a former Glanbia manager, is paid €110,000 a year. He replaced former Greencore executive Fergal Leamy, who left after five months. Mr Coveney had sought a €130,000 salary for the post.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar’s special adviser Brian Murphy is also chairman of the party’s executive council. His salary is €105,837. He was previously the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association’s commercial affairs director.
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte’s special adviser is Simon Nugent, former chief executive of the Irish Travel Agents Association. He earns €97,200.
Mr Howlin said he had set a general pay cap of €250,000 a year for chief executive officers of commercial State companies but he had acknowledged that the chief executive of the ESB would be paid more, given the importance of the role, and that he had sanctioned €318,083 a year.
“Since then a candidate has been appointed who has accepted a salary of €295,000 a year,” he said. “This represents a reduction of 43 per cent in the maximum of the scale that applied to the previous incumbent of the post.”
The reply did not include Mr Howlin’s decision, on foot of a business case presented by Minister for Health James Reilly, to approve a salary of €238,727 for the new VHI chief executive John O’Dwyer, almost €50,000 more than the €191,014 cap.
The Government instructed Department of Finance officials to draw up new guidelines on special advisers’ pay when it came to power, but it retained the right to breach the wage ceiling in “exceptional circumstances”.
The new guidelines state special advisers should normally be paid €80,051, the same as the lowest-paid principal officer in the Civil Service, but a cap of €92,672 was set, the equivalent of the salary of the highest-paid principal officer.
The cap does not apply to the office of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, where four advisers earn more than €155,000.