Coalition has ‘some whack of advisers’, opposition claims in Dáil

Paul Murphy launches highly personalised attack on new Government press secretary

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has defended the record number of special advisers the three-party Coalition Government has appointed as he came under renewed opposition pressure in the Dáil.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said it was "some whack of advisers" while Rise TD Paul Murphy launched a highly personalised attack on newly appointed Government press secretary Paul Clarkson.

Mr Martin said he had put in a range of “appropriate advisory supports” for his role as Taoiseach including a chief and deputy chief of staff, a part-time economic adviser and three special advisers.

And to “ensure openness and co-operation within government” offices had been established for the Tánaiste and for the leader of the Green Party with five advisers each along with a Government press secretary for each party leader.

Mr Kelly said that if Mr Martin were in opposition he would be “giving out yards about this”. He said the Taoiseach had previously hit out at the Labour party bringing in programme managers decades ago but “the volume here is incredible”.

Mr Murphy hit out at the number of “spin doctors and advisers” which he said would “break all previous records” after they were told in September “there were a total of 64 special advisers costing more than €3 million a year”.

Now a new press secretary had been brought in “on up to €160,000 a year”. It is understood Mr Clarkson is earning €140,000.

In a personalised attack Mr Murphy said “this new spin doctor has come from the Murdoch media empire”.

‘Racist article’

“He was previously the managing editor of The Sun in the UK, a newspaper renowned for its racism, sexism and, of course, the disgusting lies it told about the Hillsborough disaster,” he said in reference to the 1989 incident in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush at a football match.

Speaking under privilege in the Dáil Mr Murphy said “he was forced to apologise for an article which compared migrants to cockroaches and ‘a plague of feral humans’”.

The Dublin South-West TD added that “he apologised for errors in a completely inaccurate and racist article which had the front-page headline ‘one in five British Muslims had sympathy for jihadis’.

“But he declined to apologise for a cut-out-and-keep guide to what terrorists look like. Again, no surprises for guessing that cut-out-and-keep guide was racist.”

Mr Murphy added that “it doesn’t bode very well for the Government’s professed opposition to divisive politics. How does it square with that?”

Asked for his response Mr Clarkson declined to comment on Mr Murphy’s remarks but the Taoiseach said “I do not think it is fair to personalise this to the degree that he has in regard to an individual who is not in the House to defend himself.

“I can assure the Deputy that this is not about spinning anything; it is about briefing properly on what is happening in terms of Government policy and Government initiatives.

“That is the issue here in terms of the capacity and the competence of the person to be the communications and press secretary for the Government.”

To objections from Mr Kelly the Taoiseach added that the whole idea of a separate office of the Tánaiste came from Labour and Mr Martin believed “it makes sense in terms of common purpose but also in terms of making sure the agenda is delivered on in respect of the priorities of each individual party”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times