Special advisers' pay cap breach was badly handled, says Quinn
MINISTER FOR Education Ruairí Quinn has conceded the Government mishandled the contentious issue of special advisers’ pay and said the Coalition should have “probably set a more realistic level of remuneration”.
An internal Labour survey recently revealed the breach of the €92,672 pay cap for special advisers was the single biggest issue raised on the doorstep when TDs and Senators were canvassing in the fiscal treaty referendum campaign.
“That was only because we set a bar for pay that we broke ourselves,” Mr Quinn said in an interview with The Irish Times.
“It was one of the things that came up on the doorstep . . . In retrospect, yes, we would have done it differently if we had the chance, given the way it was done,” he said. “I suspect every day in retrospect about at least two of 10 decisions that I would make I would do differently.”
And what would he do differently in the case of special advisers? “Probably set a more realistic level of remuneration.”
Fine Gael TDs have also sharply criticised the pay levels of ministerial special advisers at internal meetings, with backbenchers telling Ministers the breaching of pay caps for a number of advisers had gone down extremely badly with the public.
Three Labour Ministers and three from Fine Gael have cited “exceptional circumstances” when appointing special advisers whose pay exceeds the recommended threshold, which is equivalent to the salary of the highest-paid principal officers in the Civil Service.
Mr Quinn said the pay levels should be separated from the concept of special advisers, which he strongly defended. “The Labour Party invented special advisers, going back in fact to 1973,” he said.
“But the concept of the special advisers, I mean the pay that they’re on now is a fraction, is half of what it was under Bertie Ahern. Coalition governments would not work without special advisers.” That was why the British Labour Party had followed the Irish model, he said.
Mr Quinn’s special advisers are paid under the recommended cap.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton’s special adviser, Edward Brophy, a former senior associate with Arthur Cox solicitors, earns €127,796.
Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton’s special adviser, Ciarán Conlon, is paid €127,000. He is a former Fine Gael communications director.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin’s special adviser, Ronan O’Brien, earns €114,000. He was previously chef de cabinet to Mr Quinn when he was Labour leader.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney’s adviser, Ross Mac Mathúna, a former Glanbia manager, is paid €110,00, while Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar’s special adviser, Brian Murphy, earns €105,837.
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte’s special adviser, Simon Nugent, is paid €97,200.