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Dáil approves €16,000 top-up payments for 'super junior' ministers amid criticism

Minister for public expenditure Michael McGrath “didn’t recall” his party, Fianna Fáil, trying to block the same allowances in 2017.

Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Jul 24th 2020, 5:13 PM

THE DÁIL HAS voted to pass legislation to extend a €16,000 allowance to all three super junior ministers in the current Cabinet, a pay increase which minister for public expenditure Michael McGrath “didn’t recall” his party, Fianna Fáil, trying to block in 2017.

Under the previous rules, only two super juniors could avail of the allowance, which is paid out on top of the minister of state salary of €124,439.

Following today’s vote three ‘super junior’ ministers – government chief whip Jack Chambers (Fianna Fáil), minister of state for roads Hildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael) and minister of state for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett (Green Party) – will receive the extra allowance for attending cabinet meetings. 

In 2017, the €16,00 top-up payment became a subject of controversy when Fine Gael wanted to pass legislation to appoint Mary Mitchell O’Connor as a third super junior minister.

That legislation never entered the Oireachtas and it was widely reported at the time that Fianna Fáil, then in a confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael, had privately blocked it.

In September 2017, Mitchell O’Connor said she was happy to forgo the pay increase “to avoid needless party political distractions”.

In a statement published on the Fianna Fáil party website, which is still available, the party’s then-spokesperson on education and skills, Thomas Byrne, confirmed that the party would block the creation of the new role.

“Let me make it clear – Fianna Fáil will vote against any legislative change which attempts to fund an additional super-junior position. Mr Varadkar didn’t think it through and must now deal with the consequences of the mess he created,” Byrne said.

Asked today why his party is now in favour of creating a third super junior role in the current Cabinet, Michael McGrath said that he did not recall any attempts by Fianna Fáil to block an identical move in 2017.

‘I don’t know what you’re referring to’ 

Earlier today, McGrath was announcing details of the ‘July stimulus’ package at a press conference in Government Building when he was asked about the controversial topic by Irish Independent political editor Philip Ryan.

McGrath said, “I don’t know what you’re referring to there… that wasn’t brought before the Oireachtas the last time.”

When it was put to him that it never entered the House because Fianna Fáil had blocked it, McGrath repeated, “I don’t know what you’re referring to there.

“That issue was certainly never raised to me. You’re referring to background that I’m certainly not familiar with and was certainly not discussed and to the best of my knowledge, no proposal was ever put before the Oireachtas.”

When Thomas Byrne’s statement from 2017 was put to him, McGrath said, “I don’t recall it being discussed is the straight answer and it was never before the Oireachtas, as I think has been acknowledged.

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He went on to say, “I think it is proper and appropriate that it will be dealt with. I certainly wouldn’t like to choose which one of the three ministers of state does not get the allowance. I think they should be treated equally. And that is why I brought a proposal to the government, having consulted with all parties.”

Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin was also asked to clarify her party’s stance on the matter.

The Green Party deputy leader said, “There are three ministers of state and they should be treated equally.”

The push to extend the allowance has been roundly criticised by opposition parties.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Sinn Fein TD Mairead Farrell said that unless the “super junior ministers” have “superpowers”, they do not need the top-up payment.

Ged Nash, Labour Party finance spokesperson, described the idea as “absolutely tone-deaf to the day-to-day needs of families across the country”.

RISE TD Paul Murphy described the move as “scandalous” and highlighted that it’s happening at a time when “one in four people in this country are currently unemployed, a time of great crisis”.

- With reporting from Adam Daly 

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