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behind the curtain

The Advisers: Meet the small group who have run the country since 2011, for €3.1 million a year

Which minister spends most on their own staff? A new analysis of official figures by

00119595 The Taoiseach speaks to the media, flanked by Government Press Secretary Feargal Purcell (L) and his Chief of Staff Mark Kennelly (R).

THESE MIGHT BE the last days of this government but we’re still learning about its inner workings.

New information disclosed earlier this month shows the extent of cabinet ministers’ use of special advisers – a controversial group of highly-paid political appointees with a lot of influence over the governing of the country.

An analysis of official figures by shows that just 36 advisers, across almost all government departments, are on a combined annual salary of more than €3 million.

Seven of them are paid above the government’s self-imposed salary cap of €92,672.

The wage bill for the Taoiseach’s inner circle amounts to €1.1 million a year, spread across his Chief of Staff, three special advisers, three government press secretaries, and no fewer than five personal assistants. collected and analysed figures from a series of parliamentary questions by Social Democrat TD Roisín Shortall, between December and last week.

We found a combined annual wage bill of almost €7.5 million for all politically appointed staff.

That includes €3.1 million a year on 36 advisers, €1.5 million on 29 personal assistants, €1 million on 27 secretaries, and €790,000 on 28 civilian drivers.

Of course, these figures don’t include the permanent civil servants who provide additional advice and day-to-day administrative help, but here are the five ministers with the highest salary bill for politically appointed staff.


1. Enda Kenny: 1 Chief of Staff, 3 advisers, 3 press officers, 5 personal assistants, and 2 personal secretaries. Total bill – €1,196,057

2. Joan Burton: 1 Chief of Staff, 3 advisers, 1 press officer, 1 personal assistant, 1 personal secretary, and 1 “correspondence coordinator”. Total bill – €592,187

3. Heather Humphreys: 2 advisers, 1 personal assistant, 1 personal secretary, 2 drivers. Total bill – €322,481

4. Paschal Donohoe: 2 advisers, 1 personal assistant, 1 personal secretary, 2 drivers. Total bill – €314,545

5. Jan O’Sullivan: 2 advisers, 1 personal assistant, 1 personal secretary, 2 drivers. Total bill – €314,056

The cabinet minister with the lowest total salary bill is Alex White. Despite his two advisers costing the taxpayer €174,211, the Communications Minister hasn’t appointed any other staff.

Ann Phelan’s total salary bill is the lowest of any minister. Her personal assistant and secretary are paid a combined €76,389.

But what about the advisers? Who are these 36 people that the public pays more than €3 million a year to pull strings and whisper in the ears of Ireland’s most powerful?

Here, starting with the highest-paid, we remove the curtain and shine a spotlight on the usually nameless and faceless men and women who have run the country over the last five years.

Enda Kenny, Taoiseach

00115636 Enda Kenny with his Chief of Staff, Mark Kennelly.

Chief of Staff: Mark Kennelly (€156,380)

Enda Kenny’s right-hand man has experience at almost every level within the Fine Gael party over the past 25 years. He was adviser to Michael Lowry in 1995/1996 when Lowry was Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications.

The Kerryman was Kenny’s most trusted adviser during the Fine Gael leader’s time in opposition, and was appointed Chief of Staff in 2011, on a salary of €168,000. Kennelly is said to keep a close eye on Fine Gael backbenchers, ensuring they know the line to take and to stick to it. The same goes for ministers. Some fear him, some loathe him.

Former minister Lucinda Creighton has been particularly critical of him since she left government, accusing both Kenny and Kennelly of performing a U-turn on Fine Gael’s stated internal position of not legislating for the X Case prior to the 2011 election.

Adviser: Andrew McDowell (€156,380)

Another long-time party insider, McDowell spent five years as Fine Gael’s director of policy, leading up to the successful 2011 election. He has a degree in Economics and Finance and an MBA from UCD, as well as a diploma in international relations from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

He joined the Taoiseach’s inner circle as an economic policy adviser, on a salary of €168,000, in 2011. Both he and Kennelly’s pay packages have since been cut, but are still €64,000 above the €92,672 salary cap imposed by the government itself.

Adviser: Paul O’Brien (€84,706)

O’Brien was a policy adviser at Fine Gael HQ, before being hired by Kenny in 2011 as special adviser, on a salary of €80,051.

He has a degree in History and Computer Science from UCD and a Masters in the history of international relations, from the same institution.

Adviser: Angela Flanagan (€84,706)

Another former Fine Gael policy adviser brought into the Taoiseach’s inner circle in 2011 when she was given an adviser contract with a starting salary of €80,051.

Flanagan has a degree in Germanic Languages from Trinity and is one of several advisers on this list with a Masters in political communications from DCU.

Joan Burton, Tánaiste & Minister for Social Protection

90200969 Tánaiste Joan Burton's economic policy adviser Terry Quinn

Chief of Staff: Ed Brophy (€144,550)

One of seven advisers paid above the self-imposed salary cap, Brophy is a lawyer with experience in corporate finance and a Labour supporter who provided free strategic advice to the party while they were in opposition.

He worked for seven years for major law firms Arthur Cox and William Fry, as well as for telecoms provider NTL before it was taken over by Liberty Global.

In 2011, he joined the government as a special advisor to Burton at Social Protection on a salary of €127,000, before moving with her to the office of Tánaiste in 2014.

Controversy erupted last month when it was revealed that Brophy’s pay had rocketed to €144,000, which is €52,000 above the salary cap.

In a note in response to Roisin Shorthall’s parliamentary question, Burton stated: “The salary sanctioned is significantly lower than that which he was earning in the private sector.”

Adviser: Terry Quinn (€114,424)

Quinn was Deputy Head of the Central Bank’s Irish Economic Analysis Division when he was seconded to the Tánaiste’s team in late 2014. He has Masters degrees in Economics from UCD and the London School of Economics, and has worked at the Central Bank for 25 years.

Adviser: Claire Power (€79,401)

Power took up her position advising Joan Burton when she became Tánaiste in 2014. She was parliamentary assistant to Labour’s Wicklow TD Liz McManus from 2007-2011, and from 2005 to 2007, Power worked in Labour HQ as the party’s head of research.

From 2002-2005, she was a Special Projects Coordinator for the telecoms firm Equant in Dublin, which was later taken over by Orange. She has a Masters degree in International Relations from DCU, and a BA in French, Sociology and Politics from NUI Galway.

Adviser: Karen O’Connell (€78,670)

O’Connell came to public prominence in November 2014, when she accompanied Joan Burton on her visit to Jobstown, and was blocked inside the Tánaiste’s car for more than two hours.

She has been working with Burton since 2011, first as a parliamentary advisor, and then special advisor after the move to the office of Tánaiste in 2014. First appointed on a salary of €75,647, O’Connell has since seen her salary increased.

From 2009 to 2010, she worked as political coordinator for Alan Kelly when he was an MEP. She has a degree in economics and geography from UCD, and an MA in geography from the same institution, where her thesis was on “sustainable rural housing policy in Ireland”.

Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Employment

90314399 Richard Bruton with his special adviser Ciarán Conlon.

Special Adviser: Ciarán Conlon (€118,840)

This was one of the more controversial appointments of the last five years. It emerged in 2011 that Enda Kenny had personally intervened to ensure that Conlon – who was his adviser for eight years – received a salary of €127,000 as an adviser to Richard Bruton.

That was well above the government’s €92,672 cap, and €47,000 more than Department of Finance guidelines, which set starting salaries for advisers at €80,000.

The Taoiseach overruled objections from Finance and Public Expenditure, and the salary went through, although it has since been cut to its current level.

Conlon was Fine Gael’s press director and a close media advisor to Kenny up until the attempted heave against the Fine Gael leader in 2010.

Adviser: Conor Quinn (€87,258)

Quinn studied English and History at Trinity and Georgetown University in Washington DC, before getting a Masters degree in international relations at the elite Sciences Po university in Paris.

He was Simon Coveney’s parliamentary assistant for a year, before joining Richard Bruton in 2008, as a policy advisor. Quinn became a qualified barrister in 2011, and when Fine Gael came into government that year, was hired as a special adviser to Bruton, on a starting salary of €80,051.

Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

90266484 Ronan O'Brien, special adviser to Brendan Howlin.

Special adviser: Ronan O’Brien (€106,880)

Best known as Ruairi Quinn’s right-hand man and chef de cabinet from 1992-2002, the last five encompassing Quinn’s time as Labour leader.

After the elevation of Pat Rabbitte in 2002, O’Brien became a PR man for Chartered Accountants Ireland for eight years, before returning to the fold in 2011 when he was hired as special adviser to Brendan Howlin on an initial salary of €114,000.

Adviser: Anne Byrne (€84,706)

Byrne first began working with Howlin in 1983, serving as his director of elections for 28 years, and parliamentary assistant from 2007-2011, when he was Leas-Ceann Cómhairle.

She has held various prominent positions within the party over the years, and worked on Mary Robinson’s presidential campaign in 1990. When Howlin became Minister for Public Expenditure five years ago, Byrne was hired as an adviser on a salary of €83,337.

Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health

00156850 Leo Varadkar, with his press adviser Nick Miller.

Adviser: Brian Murphy (€99,370)

The seventh and final adviser on the list whose salary exceeds the government’s cap. Murphy was hired by Varadkar in 2011 when the Transport Minister offered him a salary of almost €106,000. He is a former special adviser to ex-Fine Gael MEP and presidential candidate Gay Mitchell.

Adviser: Nick Miller (€87,258)

Another experienced journalist who crossed over a long time ago. For years, Miller reported for regional titles such as the Kerryman, Tullamore Tribune and the Evening Echo before spending eight years as a press officer with Fine Gael.

He was hired by Varadkar at Transport in 2011 on a salary of €80,051 before switching over to Health with his boss. Miller is the brains behind Varadkar’s strong presence in the media.

Ged Nash, Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Employment

90362087 Ged Nash takes questions from the media as his press adviser Deirdre Grant (far left) looks on.

Adviser: Finbarr O’Malley (€87,258)

A long-time Labour party policy adviser, O’Malley is also a qualified barrister who previously worked in the Attorney General’s office. Pat Rabbitte hired him in 2011, as an adviser in the Department of Communications, on a salary of €83,337, before he moved to Jobs with Ged Nash.

Adviser: Deirdre Grant (€87,258)

A career PR professional, Grant previously worked for the Irish NGO Haven, which operates in Haiti, before being hired by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn as a press adviser in 2011 on a salary of €86,604.

When Quinn was dropped from cabinet in 2014, Grant was hired by Nash to head up his media operation. Nash is is the only junior minister to have two special advisers, whose combined salary of €174,516 is the sixth most expensive in government.

Alex White, Minister for Communications

90402013 Press adviser Bernard Harbor stands to the left of Communications Minister Alex White.

Adviser: Bernard Harbor (€91,624)

Alex White brought Harbor on board when he was elevated to cabinet Minister in 2014. Harbor spent almost 20 years as a PR man for the IMPACT trade union, after moving to Ireland from London, where he was a researcher for the TGWU union during the 90s.

Harbor did years of research on the military industry in various places in the UK, after graduating with a degree in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford in 1985.

Adviser: Madeleine Mulrennan (€82,587)

Mulrennan was hired by White in 2013, when he was still a Junior Minister for Primary Care in the Department of Health. Her starting salary there was €61,966, which was bumped up to €79,401 the following year, when White brought her with him to Communications, and further increased to its current level.

A veteran educator in the vocational and technical college sector, Mulrennan ran St Catherine’s College for Home Economics at Sion Hill in Blackrock from 2000 until it was shut down by the Department of Education in 2008.

Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice

90223803 2011 photo of then-Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, with her special adviser and South Dublin County Councillor William Lavelle.

Special adviser: William Lavelle (€87,258)

Lavelle is the only public official also serving as a special adviser after he was elected to South Dublin County Council in 2009 as a Fine Gael representative for Lucan in Frances Fitzgerald’s Dublin Mid-West constituency. In that role, he earns almost €24,000 a year in salary and allowances.

In 2011, Fitzgerald hired him on a salary of €40,026 as a special advisor to her in the department of Children and Youth Affairs. When she became Minister for Justice in 2014, she took him with her, bumping his salary to €81,676 – from which it has since increased.

Lavelle has been a Fine Gael activist for the last 15 years – joining the party in 2000 while studying at UCD. He was Young Fine Gael president during 2003/2004 and claims to have “played a key role” in rebuilding the youth wing during the early years of Enda Kenny’s tenure as leader.

Lavelle previously worked for Kenny and has been chair of Fine Gael in Frances Fitzgerald’s constituency, as well as serving on the party’s National Executive. He was also on the board of the National Youth Council.

Special adviser: Marion Mannion (€84,706)

Fitzgerald’s second special adviser is another Fine Gael activist from the Dublin Mid-West constituency. Marion Mannion from Clondalkin was seconded from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency in 2011, and hired by Fitzgerald as an adviser in the department of Children on an initial salary of €80,051.

That was increased to its current level in 2014 when Mannion was moved to the Department of Justice. On hiring her, Fitzgerald cited Mannion’s extensive political activism and a degree in social policy and politics.

She has served as chair of Fine Gael in Dublin Mid-West and is currently head of the party’s accounting unit in the constituency.

James Reilly, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

90114449 File photo of James Reilly's policy adviser Camille Loftus.

Adviser: Mark Costigan (€87,258)

Costigan is one of the most experienced advisers working in government. A former broadcast journalist, he was deputy government press secretary from 2006 to 2011, during the transition between Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen’s tenures as Taoiseach, earning between €103,000 and €112,000.

He also served as a spokesman for Tánaiste and Health Minister Mary Harney. In 2011, James Reilly hired him as a press adviser in the same department on a salary of €92,672. In 2014, both men made the move to Children and Youth Affairs and Costigan’s wages dropped to their current level.

Adviser: Camille Loftus (€82,587)

A former academic and researcher in the area of poverty and unemployment, Loftus was hired by Reilly in 2013 on a salary of €75,647. Since the departmental shift in 2014, her pay has increased to its current level.

Loftus spent five years lecturing in social policy at UCD and NUI Maynooth, and has worked for the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed, Focus Ireland, and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

She has a degree in politics and social policy, and is currently pursuing a PhD on the subject of job security and labour market flexibility.

Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport

7478110594_3cf101ca61_o Department of Children and Youth Affairs Stephen Lynam, now special adviser to Paschal Donohoe, appears in a photocall with Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, in 2012. Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Adviser: Stephen Lynam (€79,401)

From 2001-2008, Lynam served as a policy officer for Enda Kenny at Fine Gael HQ, before joining the drinks industry, as a senior executive in Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland.

In 2011, he rose to the prominent position of Director of Retail Ireland. In September 2014, newly-appointed Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe hired Lynam as special adviser. Lynam has served on Fine Gael’s LGBT steering committee.

Adviser: Deborah Sweeney (€75,647)

Paschal Donohoe’s second adviser is steeped in party politics, having worked her way up from press officer to Deputy Director of Media and Research at Fine Gael HQ.

She was hired by the Dublin Central TD in January 2014, when he was still Minister of State for European Affairs, and went with him to Transport later that year, where she now serves as Donohoe’s media adviser.

Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Defence


Coveney had previously provoked widespread outrage by paying two special advisers tens of thousands of euro above the government’s own salary cap. In 2011, he hired consultant Fergal Leamy on a salary of €130,000 but Leamy left after six months.

He is now Chief Executive of Coillte, the forestry industry body which is technically owned by Coveney in his capacity as Minister for Agriculture.

In 2012, special adviser Ross MacMathúna was hired on a salary of €110,000 – well above the limit of €92,000. MacMathúna left Coveney in 2014 and has since taken over as Director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation.

Since 2014, however, Coveney has avoided provoking the ire of the public, with both his advisers being paid below the pay ceiling.

Adviser: Aine Kilroy (€87,258)

Kilroy worked as a policy adviser to Enda Kenny at Fine Gael HQ from 2007 to 2011 when she was hired by Coveney to serve as an adviser to him in Agriculture. She has degrees in Journalism and Public Affairs from DCU and DIT respectively.

Adviser: Caitriona Fitzpatrick (€78,670)

After serving as Coveney’s parliamentary assistant from 2008-2011, and leading his re-election campaign that year, Fitzpatrick was hired on a salary of €47,304 when he became Minister for Agriculture.

According a February 2015 report in the Irish Independent, her pay was bumped to €51,365, before Coveney intervened to secure her a further €24,000 increase.

Before entering professional politics in 2008, Fitzpatrick spent three years as a PR manager for the Body Shop, and ran one of their stores. She has a degree in Business and HR and a diploma in PR from the National College of Ireland.

Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Above: Charlie Flanagan flanked by his advisers Sarah Kavanagh (L) and Susie O’Connor (R).

Adviser: Sarah Kavanagh (€82,587)

Kavanagh has served in a range of positions within Fine Gael – as parliamentary assistant to Tom Hayes and Charlie Flanagan, and as research and policy officer at party HQ. In 2014, she was hired by Flanagan when he became Minister for Children, on a salary of €75,647.

Two months later, her pay was bumped to €79,401 when the cabinet reshuffle took Flanagan to Foreign Affairs. Kavanagh has a degree in history and politics, two Masters degrees, and qualified as a barrister in 2012.

Adviser: Susie O’Connor (€82,587)

O’Connor started her career in professional politics as an adviser to Green Party MEP Nuala Ahern in 1999. She worked as an insurance and mortgage broker for a year, before serving as CEO of Young Fine Gael and National Youth Officer from 2003-2011.

In 2009, she ran George Lee’s successful by-election campaign in Dublin South, and helped manage Enda Kenny’s nationwide tour in the run-up to the 2011 General Election.

O’Connor left Ireland in 2012, getting an MBA from Hult International Business School in San Francisco and working as a strategy consultant in the city. In 2014, she returned to the fold when Charlie Flanagan brought her to Foreign Affairs on a salary of €79,401.

Jan O’Sullivan, Minister for Education

188093170_0b890fccd1_o Labour Party File photo of Neil Ward, special adviser to Jan O Sullivan Labour Party

Adviser: Neil Ward (€78,670)

A former Youth and Development Officer and National Executive member for the Labour party, Ward was hired by Ruairi Quinn in 2011 as his personal secretary, on a salary of €45,004.

In January 2014, Ward found himself in hot water when he tweeted a screenshot of his empty email inbox, and wrote “Perhaps the best feeling in the world. #NothingToDo.”

Despite the controversy, the then Education Minister promoted him to special adviser in January 2014, bringing his pay up to €75,647. When Jan O’Sullivan took over the department that spring, she kept him on, and his salary has since increased again.

An active member of Labour Youth, Ward was critical of then-leader Pat Rabbitte’s overtures to Fine Gael, and strongly opposed an alliance between the parties before the 2007 general election.

Adviser: Paul Daly (€84,706)

A communications consultant, Daly has worked in the Labour press office and edited a 2012 book commemorating the party’s centenary. In 2012, he was hired as an adviser by Jan O Sullivan, when she was Junior Minister for Housing, on a salary of €80,051.

When she was elevated to Education in 2014, Daly went with her and got a pay increase. He has a Masters degree in political communication from DCU.

Heather Humphreys, Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

90357294 Heather Humphreys is accompanied by her press adviser Sarah Meade.

Adviser: Lorraine Hall (€78,670)

Hall has worked within Fine Gael for the last 12 years – starting as a policy officer in 2004, before being hired as Alan Shatter’s personal assistant in 2011, on a salary of €56,060.

Newly-appointed Arts Minister Heather Humphreys took her on as special adviser in 2014 – a move which caused controversy when it was revealed by the Irish Daily Mail that Humphreys and Hall are second cousins.

The Department insisted the hiring did not violate ethics rules, however, because second cousins are not considered relatives under the relevant legislation. Hall, who has a Masters degree in European Economics and Public Affairs, was hired on a salary of €75,647.

Adviser: Sarah Meade (€82,587)

The former journalist and Fine Gael press officer was hired by Humphreys as a media adviser in September 2014, on a salary of €79,401. She has a degree in journalism from DCU.

Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment

90370481 Press adviser Jim McGrath (R) watches as Alan Kelly talks to the media.

Adviser: Cónán O’Broin (€79,401)

The former student activist was hired as parliamentary assistant to Dublin Mid-West TD Robert Dowds in 2011, but has been drafted by Environment Minister Alan Kelly as temporary cover for a special adviser who is on long-term unpaid leave.

O’Broin was Deputy President of the Union of Students of Ireland, and President of the Students’ Union at Trinity, where he got a degree in economics and political science in 2009.

Adviser: Jim McGrath (€78,670)

A former journalist with the Sunday Tribune and Nenagh Guardian in Kelly’s Tipperary constituency, McGrath started his professional career with the Labour party in 2009.

He was an advisor to Kelly in Brussels for two years before joining him at the Department of Transport in 2011 where Kelly was a junior minister.

After Kelly’s elevation to Environment in 2014, McGrath was given a special adviser position with a salary of €75,647. He plays a key role in ensuring that Kelly is in the media on an almost daily basis, outlining his future policy and legislative plans.

Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance

Fine Gael party think in Niall Carson / PA Niall Carson / PA / PA

Adviser: Mary Kenny (€87,258)

By far the longest-serving adviser of the current crop, Kenny has been working with Noonan for almost 30 years. He hired her as a parliamentary secretary back in 1989, and as personal assistant when the Rainbow Coalition entered government in 1995.

She was elevated to special adviser the following year, a position she took up again in 2011, when Noonan became Finance Minister. She is one of just a handful of people in Noonan’s inner circle of trusted advisers.

Paul Kehoe, Government Chief Whip and Minister of State in the Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence

Adviser: Mark O’Doherty (€84,706)

A former Fine Gael parliamentary assistant, O’Doherty was hired by Kehoe upon taking office in 2011 on a starting salary of €80,051. He has since had two pay increases. O’Doherty holds a law degree and LLM from UCC, and qualified as a barrister in 2003.

Kathleen Lynch, Minister of State in the Department of Health


Adviser: Patricia Ryan (€65,000)

Perhaps one of the most controversial ministerial advisers, Ryan was hired by Kathleen Lynch when she became Minister of State in the Department of Health in 2014.

Her appointment came less than two months after Ryan quit as CEO of Limerick City of Culture, after allegations that she had been appointed, without an interview, upon the encouragement of Pat Cox, for whom she had previously worked when he was an MEP for the Progressive Democrats.

In 2004, then Health Minister and Tánaiste Mary Harney appointed her special adviser, a position she held until 2011, earning up to €151,000 a year.

Her starting salary with Lynch is a comparatively modest €65,000, although the Sunday Times reported last August that Lynch had lobbied for a €10,000 raise just three months after hiring Ryan.

Dara Murphy, Minister of State for European Affairs

Adviser: Conor Gouldsbury (€64,257)

Gouldsbury has a background in big business and Europe, having served as a policy officer with Ibec, and worked as an intern in the European Commission.

From 2012-2014 he was a policy adviser to Oireachtas committees on Finance and European Affairs. In October 2014, he was hired as a special adviser by Dara Murphy, Junior Minister for European Affairs and Data Protection, on a salary of €64,257.

Michael Ring, Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

90396168 (1) Michael Ring with unpaid adviser and former Fine Gael TD Paul McGrath (R).

Adviser: Paul McGrath (unpaid)

The Mullingar man is the only former TD currently serving as an adviser, having held a seat in Longford-Westmeath from 1989 until 2007.

McGrath is also exceptional in being the only unpaid adviser in the lifetime of the outgoing government.

Find out more

To view the qualifications and contracts of special advisers and other political staff, search the Oireachtas Library database here

To download a spreadsheet containing a detailed breakdown of each minister and department’s salary spending, click here.

Additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell

Read: Tánaiste’s head of staff is paid €52,000 more than pay cap>

Read: Ministers don’t have to explain most of their €1.4 million personal expenses>

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