Allowance paid to chief whip was ‘illegal’, Labour leader claims

Mary Mitchell O’Connor will not get ‘top up’ as Taoiseach will not prioritise necessary law

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty was paid  €15,829 for her role as Government whip but  “no such position exists under law”, Brendan Howlin told the Dáil. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty was paid €15,829 for her role as Government whip but “no such position exists under law”, Brendan Howlin told the Dáil. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Questions have been raised in the Dáil about the legality of an annual allowance of almost €16,000 paid to former government chief whip and “super junior” minister Regina Doherty.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin asked if Ms Doherty will have to repay the €15,829 annually she has received since her appointment by former taoiseach Enda Kenny 13 months ago.

And he claimed that Ms Doherty’s successor Joe McHugh will not be eligible for the payment either.

Mr Howlin said legislation only allows for such “top-up” payments to two super junior Ministers and he asked how Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would decide which two of the four he appointed would be paid extra.

Mr Varadkar said he would not be “prioritising” legislation to increase allowances for politicians, a signal that Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor will not receive the extra €15,829.

It emerged that legislation would have to be passed for Ms Mitchell O’Connor to receive the allowance and the Opposition will not support any such measure.

The issue was raised as Mr Varadkar announced his line-up of Ministers of State.

A former minister for public expenditure and reform, Mr Howlin asked Mr Varadkar if he intended to recover the payment from Ms Doherty “because everyone in this House is aware of your diligence in ensuring that people who are overpaid by the State make full repayment”.

Mr Varadkar told him he did not accept that any payment made was illegal but he would “examine the matter further and make whatever changes or recoveries may be necessary if what you say is correct”.

Mr Howlin said it “emerged that the payment of a third allowance to the former government chief whip last year was unlawful”.

He said it was clear from “documents released under Freedom of Information that the whip was being paid on the understanding that it was for her responsibilities as Fine Gael whip.

“However under the law no allowance can be paid to a party whip if that person is a Minister or Minister of State.”

The law was “crystal clear” on this, he said. “This means that you cannot pay such an allowance to the new Government Chief Whip. It also means that an illegal overpayment has been made to Minister Doherty.”

He told Mr Varadkar: “This is a mess obviously started by your predecessor Taoiseach but in seeking to create extra jobs for Fine Gael deputies in this House, you’ve made it worse”.

Mr Varadkar said it was a long-standing practice that the chief whip had a chief whip’s allowance just as there was a payment for party whips.

“My intention is that all Ministers of State who attend the Cabinet should be paid the same salary” but if it required legislation it will not be prioritised.

The Taoiseach stressed that “the interests of Ministers who sit around my Cabinet table is not in salaries and allowances so I’m not going to be prioritising any legislation to afford an allowance that doesn’t already exist”.

He said: “The focus of this Government is going to be around getting through legislation that matters to the people, that matters to members of the public.”