Miriam Lord: Let’s call a spad a spad – this Government has woeful timing

Decision to provide special advisers to junior ministers comes as pandemic payment is cut

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

If this was real stand-up, it would have been perfect comic timing.

But it wasn’t. It was Micheál Martin standing up in the Dáil to showcase his coalition’s peculiar talent for wretched timing.

How do they do it?

Something really bad must be coming down the tracks. This might explain why the Government announced the appointment of 10 new advisers (outside of the traditional transfer window) for Ministers of State when it had just cut the pandemic unemployment payment and many people are worried sick wondering if they will return to work again.

A ruse to divert attention from something else, perhaps?

Maybe not, but even if this isn’t the case there’s a whiffy hum of jobs for the boys and girls about this move at such a sensitive time. Apparently 10 out of our 17-strong squad of Ministers of State argued successfully for a full-time special adviser to help them set the world on fire, which is what they all dream of doing but rarely do.

Which begs all sorts of questions about the remaining seven. Too useless to argue for a personal aide or merit a dedicated confidante? Or too smart and efficient to need one?

The Super Seven or the Stoopid Seven? Time will tell. Or perhaps they have less ego than the Terrific or the Terrible 10. Why the others were left out was a question for much idle consideration around Leinster House.

Of course, this new intake would be in addition to the staff already toiling in the warm rays of our three “super-junior” Ministers. They automatically have advisers to strap them in so they don’t fall out of their special high chairs at the Cabinet table and hurt themselves.

Too late

The news of the hiring of yet more ministerial cushioning came too late on Tuesday morning for the Opposition to divine public reaction, but Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald managed to raise it briefly with the Taoiseach.

He retorted by telling her she’s wasn’t one to talk as Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland had always been partial to the special advisers. Which is true, but it didn’t take away from her point that the circumstances surrounding the announcement were not good and the decision at this time to sign up more advisers seemed decidedly off.

Then again, these people complaining about the cut in their pandemic unemployment payment are becoming annoying.

Let’s call a spad a spad.

Why can’t they go and get a job with a Government Minister like everyone else?

Terrible that they are being laid off and losing their jobs, but could they not just retrain or something? Like, there are plenty of job opportunities in the growth areas of boosting fragile egos and minding baby Ministers.

We’re not made of money, you know.

Do you realise how much it costs these days to keep Ministers in special advisers? They grow up so fast. In the beginning, happy with a rattling promotion and a rusk. Before long, swanning around the place with paid entourages and persecution complexes.

These senior Ministers crave constant care from an expensive team of hand-picked aides who can help them see the bigger picture and be seen in bigger pictures. The civil service simply can’t provide this class of bought expertise, 24-7.

But the little ones are also very demanding. Junior ministers need advisers too.

But maybe not quite now, in the current climate, with Covid-19 shutdowns causing financial distress to people who would ordinarily be working away and earning a crust. Last week’s cut in the pandemic unemployment payment will have hit them hard.

Not to mention the workers who thought the worst was over when the restrictions eased and they returned to work, only to be told last Friday that a worrying rise in cases meant their businesses had to close again immediately. Then there are the ones who live in constant dread that they might be next.

Making the case

Tuesday’s news of the Government beefing up the numbers of advisers on the State payroll will have gone down like a lead balloon with all of them.

The Taoiseach made the case for cutting the payment at Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday when Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald urged him to reverse the decision. Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats echoed her point, saying the reduction in the support was “a double blow” for workers laid off for a second time.

Micheál Martin has his argument well prepared – the payment was initially intended to last for a 12-week period; that had to be extended and it will continue but the economic impact of the pandemic could last for all of next year. The Government must be careful and prudent in its spending.

But it didn’t look good.

However, the Taoiseach is fortunate that a question still hangs in the air over whether the chosen 10 needed special help to get anything done or whether the remaining seven had been cruelly overlooked and should be given due recognition.

Otherwise he would have to contend with Mary Lou and a socially distanced doughnut of grave-faced colleagues marching on to the plinth to demand Justice for the Spurned Seven and standing in solidarity with them until their case is resolved.

Still, it’s good to see some sectors of the jobs market still buoyant in the best small country in which to be a junior minister.

Ten special advisers, hanging round the Dáil.

Ten special advisers, hanging round the Dáil.

And if one special adviser should accidentally fall

There’ll be more new special advisers hanging around the Dáil.

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