Former special adviser says Fine Gael ‘more insistent’ than Labour on State board appointments

Ruairí Quinn’s ministerial car driven at 180km/h to get to teacher conference, book discloses

A former ministerial advisor has described how the Coalition parties repeatedly clashed over the allocation of posts on State boards, with Fine Gael "more insistent than Labour on appointing 'its' people".

John Walshe, a long-standing education journalist, who was special adviser to Ruairí Quinn, confirmed an informal quota operated in appointments to boards whereby "Fine Gael generally insisted on its two-thirds share, Labour got the other third".

In a book on his experiences working for the then minister for education, Walshe describes how a number of Mr Quinn’s policies were blocked by Fine Gael, with particular tensions over third-level education funding and Waterford’s stalled bid for university status.

Walshe recounts an incident where Mr Quinn’s ministerial car drove at 180km/h as he travelled between two teacher union conferences in 2011.

Mr Quinn and his entourage had stopped for an RTÉ radio interview on their way between the TUI conference in Tralee and the ASTI event in Cork. "Back on the road after coffee, the driver put down the boot, touching 180km/h at one stage, only for a squad car to come chasing after us," writes Walshe. "Our driver put on the special blue hazard lights to indicate it was a State car and the Garda car peeled away."

The incident occurred just a month after the Coalition announced it was ending the practice of giving every Cabinet Minister a Garda driver. Walshe's account of the tensions within Government over Waterford's bid for university status sheds fresh light on an issue that has returned to the political arena.The Higher Education Authority had envisaged problems with a merger of Waterford Institute of Technology and IT Carlow two years ago and suggested the pair merge instead with the institutes of technology in Cork and Tralee as a four-campus entity.

However, Walshe says this plan was blocked by Brendan Howlin and Phil Hogan, Ministers from Wexford and Kilkenny respectively, who believed that Cork rather than the southeast would be the main beneficiary of such an institution.

Walshe, who spent 40 years in journalism, mainly in the Irish Independent but also for a short period in The Irish Times, has some colourful descriptions of Enda Kenny, including one where the Taoiseach "grabbed me in a playful headlock" at a dinner in NUI Galway in March 2012 and scolded him over the department's policy on small schools.

Walshe, whose was paid a salary of €80,000 and worked what he said was a 10-hour day, describes the advisory role as unfriendly to family life, with many late evening meetings and social events. Asked about the working environment, he told The Irish Times: "I don't think it was particularly macho. Tell me any organisation where you don't hear some blue language."

As for the Taoiseach’s manner, “the headlock and high fives and finger pointing – this is his folksy style”.

His book, An Education: How an Outsider Became an Insider – and Learned What Really Goes on in Irish Government, is published by Penguin Ireland.

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