‘Holy trinity of taoisigh’ to have up to 17 advisers, Dáil hears

Martin suggests he will bring legislation to allow three junior ministers extra €16,000

Fianna Fáil leader  Micheál Martin, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed to the Dáil that the three coalition leaders will have up to 17 advisers to support what the Sinn Féin leader has called a “holy trinity of taoisigh”.

The Fianna Fáil leader also said he believed that the three Ministers of State sitting at Cabinet – Hildegarde Naughton, Dara Calleary and Senator Pippa Hackett – should be equally entitled to the extra allowance for that role.

He appeared to signal he would introduce legislation to do this as by law only two junior ministers are entitled to the €16,288 additional payment.

Asked by Opposition leaders about which two would get the allowance, Mr Martin said “there should be equality between all three. I will not mince around or do the popular thing and say we are afraid to bring anything to the table or to the House.”

The Opposition criticisms came during questions to the Taoiseach in the Dáil when Mr Martin came under pressure about the number of advisers and additional resources being spent by the new Government.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald questioned why Mr Varadkar needed an aide-de-camp when he was no longer taoiseach. “What is the thinking behind that?” she asked, adding that she was “at a loss” as to the reason why.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said it was a “joke” that Mr Varadkar would have a military attache and “it is also a joke that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is going to cost taxpayers €200,000 because he wants a Garda car and Garda driver” and a director of protocol. Mr Kelly said this was at a time of unprecedented economic crisis because of the pandemic.

He said Simon Coveney was no longer entitled to this level of State security as a Minister and not tánaiste. “Why are you tolerating such excesses?” he asked Mr Martin.

But the Taoiseach said that Mr Coveney needed the car and driver for security and the nature of his work and Mr Varadkar would have the aide-de-camp “to assist him in his duties as Tánaiste to assist him at occasions and events he will attend”.

‘Most irregular arrangement’

The Taoiseach said he had not fully completed his team but had appointed a chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and three special advisers. He also said he would appoint an adviser on economic policy.

Mr Martin confirmed that both the Tánaiste and leader of the Green Party Eamon Ryan would have offices in the Office of Taoiseach. He said Mr Varadkar would have five or six special advisers and Mr Ryan would have four or five.

Ms McDonald said it was a “most irregular arrangement” and she was “very concerned that we now have a holy trinity of taoisigh or at least a holy trinity of very senior actors located in the Department of An Taoiseach at a considerable expense to the taxpayer”.

Mr Kelly said it was an “incredible” number of advisers.

But Mr Martin said this was a “tripartite” Government and the Labour Party was the “architect” of this model when it went into coalition with Fianna Fáil between 1992 and 1994 to ensure the implementation of their programme for government.

The political advisers were there to ensure “cohesion, genuine partnership and parity of esteem”. He added: “It’s not about one party lording it over.”

He rejected Mr Kelly’s criticism of the appointment of 20 Ministers of State and said it was only one more than the previous administration, “hardly earth-shattering”.

The Labour leader said the junior ministers should not have special advisers. “A sum of €80,000 multiplied by 20 is not a good use of taxpayers’ money”, he said. But the Taoiseach said Government was becoming more wide-ranging with areas that need special attention.

Ms McDonald also hit out at the establishment of a Cabinet co-ordination committee of the three leaders. She said the “job of Taoiseach can’t be contracted out or subdivided” and described the approach as “borne out of rivalry”.

Mr Kelly said there would be “confusion all over the place” as he described the committee as a “recipe for disaster”.

But the Taoiseach said the committee was there “to prevent issues from festering and becoming bigger issues than they should”.

He added: “Its purpose in advance of every Cabinet meeting will be to meet to discuss the Cabinet agenda.”