Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan said the appointment of two people known to him to a national advisory committee was done “to the letter of the law” and not an “old-fashioned political stroke”.
He rejected renewed allegations by Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty that he had engaged in “cronyism” and not abided by the “higher standards” expected of the Green Party.
“Once you’ve had the opportunity to dole out jobs for your friends, you have been shown to be just as capable as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in doling out those jobs,” he told Mr Ryan.
The party has repeatedly raised the issue over the past fortnight after Mr Ryan appointed his former special adviser Prof Morgan D Bazilian and former Green party election candidate Cara Augustenborg to the Climate Action Advisory Council.
Mr Doherty said the Public Accounts Committee is due to publish its report into the appointment of Robert Watt as secretary general to the Department of Health, “an appointment that you were involved in without any proper process. During the summer we had the whole Zappone-gate scenario where Fine Gael were appointing a former minister into a State makey-up job paid by the public purse.”
And in recent weeks Mr Ryan “appointed two friends to the Climate Action Advisory Council, despite a recommendation from the Oireachtas committee of climate action that there should be an open, competitive and transparent process attached to such appointments”.
During leaders’ questions in the Dáil the Donegal TD said these positions of €10,000 along with travel and subsistence claims were paid for by the public purse and it was “an old-fashioned political stroke”. He said the Minister had breached his own guidelines and there was a wider issue involved – it was vital the climate advisory committee was independent.
He said it was “vital” the advice Government receives “is not predetermined or reflective of ideological persuasions”. But “independent advice is no use if you’re simply getting the advice that you want to hear on critical elements”.
Mr Ryan said the council was appointed exactly as was set out within the law and in the exact same way that the previous advisory council had been established. The appointments “went through all the proper Government procedures”. One of the individuals has unique experience in world energy policy that he did not believe this would be available elsewhere.
“And yes, I know a number of people from that council . . . I don’t believe it will be in any way reflect any partisan or other interests because someone might have worked with me in the past, because there’s 15 people and it’s made up of a whole range of different diverse backgrounds.”
Mr Ryan added that people did not want climate to be turned into a politically divisive issue. He stood over the process and it was to the letter of the law which was passed in the House and accepted by a majority of parties including Sinn Féin.
“But you pulled a political stroke,” said Mr Doherty.
The Government had insisted in the legislation that appointments had to be through the public appointments process. Mr Doherty said “you decided to ignore those guidelines” and make appointments “without a transparent open and fair process”.
Mr Ryan said “there are some instances where a Government department and Minister are best placed to be able to set up this advisory board”.