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Wednesday 31 May 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# Behind The Scenes
The Class of '16: The advisers from Enda Kenny's government, where are they now?
Most are still in politics but a significant number have made the jump to the corporate world.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Dper) published the updated list of government special advisers and their salaries. 

It revealed the pay of 58 different advisers, nine of whom are paid above the maximum allowed salary on their payscale. This breach is only allowed with the agreement of Dper.

Three-and-a half years ago, published an article called “The Advisers”, it looked at this team of special advisers who provide counsel to senior ministers. 

The idea was to take a look at who made up the inner circle of Enda Kenny’s government, and how much they were paid to be there. 

That article was written a month before the 2016 general election, which dispensed with the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and led to the current Fine Gael minority government. 

Kenny has also since departed as Taoiseach. He remains as a TD but was also recently named as an adviser himself to a Dublin-based investment fund.

But what about the advisers in his government? Have they moved on to the private sector too or are they still working away in Leinster House? 

We decided to take a look.


Overall, it’s a bit of a mixture. Some are still advising ministers but a significant number have indeed moved into the corporate world in various capacities. 

Depending on your definition, at least 12 have made that particular jump. This is about a third of the advisers we looked at it 2016.

Of those 12, eight advisers had been under Fine Gael ministers while four were under Labour ministers. 

The types of roles are broadly similar, with 10 being in the corporate strategy and public affairs arena.

The tech industry has been a significant beneficiary of their public affairs expertise with at least four working for tech firms after their time with the government. 

Of those not working in the corporate world, about 16 remain working in government and/or politics in some way.

Six of the 19 ministers from 2016 are still in ministerial positions and many of their advisers either remain with them or are in a related department. 

With Labour no longer being in government, a number of the 2016 Labour advisers are in currently positions with the union and labour movement.

Several of the Labour advisers worked as part of the successful campaign to re-elect Michael D Higgins.

So, minister-by-minister, what is the advisers Class of ’16 up to now?

Enda Kenny (Taoiseach)

At the beginning of 2016, Kenny had three advisers and his chief of staff Mark Kennelly. Kennelly was a long-time operator within Fine Gael and was Kenny’s right-hand-man.

The Kerryman now operates his own strategic advisory business, focusing on public and European Union affairs, according to the University of Limerick Foundation of which he is a member.

Kenny’s three other advisers were Andrew McDowell, Paul O’Brien and Angela Flanagan

Flanagan remains as a special adviser in the Department of the Taoiseach to Leo Varadkar on a salary of €105,000.

O’Brien has indeed made the jump into the corporate world and is lead director for public affairs with PR firm Drury | Porter Novelli.

McDowell is now vice president at the European Investment Bank having been nominated to the position by Kenny in 2016.  

Joan Burton, (Tánaiste and Social Protection)

Burton had chief of staff Ed Brophy and advisers Terry Quinn, Claire Power and Karen O’Connell.

The then-Labour leader survived a difficult election for the party in 2016 and was returned as a TD but she is now on the opposition benches. 

Ed Brophy remains in a senior advisory role within the government but was in the private sector for a period in recent years.

He is currently special adviser to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and on a salary of €98,391 having been appointed to the position last year. 

Before that, Brophy was also co-founder of the Ireland Thinks research company and worked for executive recruitment firm Accreate before being taken on by Donohoe. 

A few weeks after rejoining the fold, he raised some eyebrows by getting involved in a Twitter spat with Social Democrat councillor Gary Gannon.  

Terry 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, a position he has since returned to.

Claire Power is now an adviser to President Michael D Higgins in Áras an Úachtaráin after being director of the campaign to re-elect him.

Karen O’Connell, who was in the car with Burton during the Jobstown incident in 2014, now works as a site reliability engineering for Google Ireland.

Richard Bruton (Jobs)

90314399_90314399 Mark Stedman / Richard Bruton and Ciarán Conlon pictured in 2013.Source: Mark Stedman/ Mark Stedman / /

Bruton is the first of the ministers in our list who remains in a ministerial position, currently being Minister for Communications and Climate action. In 2016, he was in the jobs portfolio and had two special advisers. 

Ciarán Conlon was Fine Gael’s former press director and had been a former adviser to Kenny. He now has a senior position in the Irish tech world as director of public policy at Microsoft Ireland

Conor Quinn, who was a barrister when hired as a special adviser to Bruton, remains a member of the Bar of Ireland.

Brendan Howlin (Public Expenditure)

Howlin had the difficult role of watching the outgoings in the austerity-era government. After the 2016 election he was elected leader of the Labour party, replacing Joan Burton.

Back then had two advisers in his department, Anne Byrne and Rónán O’Brien, who had long histories with the Labour party. 

O’Brien now works as head of communications and investor relations at the NDRC in the Digital Hub.

Leo Varadkar (Health)

Lung Health Awareness Programmes Varadkar and press adviser Nick MIller in 2014.

Varadkar was Health Minister in 2016 and defied what was previously considered a political poison chalice to become Taoiseach less than 18 months later. 

Both of his advisers from that time remain with him. Brian Murphy is now Varadkar’s chief of staff and as deputy secretary in the Taoiseach’s department is on a salary of €157,433. 

Nick Miller is now Government Press Secretary.

Ged Nash (Minister of State in Dept of Jobs)

Labour’s Ged Nash did not survive what was his party’s worst ever election in 2016 but he is now a senator and an active one on many issues

He had two advisers in 2016. Finbarr O’Malley was a long-time Labour adviser when taken on by Nash and he remains a legal and policy adviser with the party. 

Deirdre Grant now works as a managing director with the PR and business advisory firm Red Flag, having previously been its director of Public Affairs. 

Alex White (Communications)

Labour minister Alex White lost his seat in the 2016 election and the barrister recently ran unsuccessfully in the European elections in Dublin. 

Former adviser Bernard Harbor now works as head of communications with the Fórsa trade union and also fulfilled a similar role as part of the campaign to re-elect President Higgins.

White’s other adviser Madeleine Mulrennan lists herself online as an independent public policy consultant. 

Frances Fitzgerald (Justice)

90223803_90223803 Frances Fitzgerald and William Lavelle in 2011.

Frances Fitzgerald was  forced to resign from the cabinet in late 2017 in the midst of a controversy about her knowledge of the legal strategy used against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission.

After being largely vindicated by the Justice Peter Charleton in the Disclosures Tribunal, Fitzgerald was recently elected as an MEP.  

She had two advisers in 2016, one of whom was colourful former councillor and ex-president of Young Fine Gael William Lavelle

Lavelle decided against seeking re-election in the locals this year and he currently works as head of the Irish Whiskey Association, which is part of drinks industry lobby group the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland

James Reilly (Children)

In losing his seat in 2016, James Reilly was perhaps Fine Gael’s biggest casualty in the general election but he was appointed to the Seanad by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

His two advisers at the time were Mark Costigan and Camile Loftus. 

Former journalist Costigan was one of the most experienced advisers working in government having served as a government press secretary during the Fianna Fáil coalition governments between 2005-2011.

He was taken on as a spokesperson for James Reilly in 2011 and advised the minister until Reilly lost his seat.

Costigan has now left the political world completely and works with Bere Island Community Radio in West Cork.

Loftus still works in the political arena as a social policy researcher and analyst. 

Paschal Donohoe (Transport)

The Dublin Central TD was transport minister in 2016 but has since been promoted to the Finance portfolio. 

Deborah Sweeney was one of his advisers at that time and she remains with him in the Department of Finance with a salary that’s increased from €82,587 to €88,392.

Stephen Lynam continued to work as an adviser to Donohoe but recently moved to the corporate PR firm Q4 where he is employed as a director in the public affairs department.

Simon Coveney (Agriculture)

90401779_90401779 Simon Coveney pictured during his time as Agriculture Minister.

Simon Coveney has had a topsy-turvy few years since the 2016 general election but has come out the other end. He lost the Fine Gael leadership race but he’s also shed the difficult housing portfolio to be entrusted with Foreign Affairs, a key position amid the Brexit chaos.

Both of Coveney’s advisers from 2016 are still working with the government. Caitríona Fitzpatrick moved with Coveney to the Department of Foreign Affairs while Áine Kilroy stayed in agriculture and is now an adviser to Michael Creed. 

Both remain at the same salary at €78,670 and €87,258 respectively. 

Charlie Flanagan (Foreign Affairs)

Charlie Flanagan has moved from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of Justice and one of his advisers from 2016 remains with him. 

Sarah Kavanagh is still an adviser with the minister at a salary of €85,091.

Susie O’Connor no longer works for government and is now employed as a senior consultant with business consultancy firm Genesis Ireland. On its website, Genesis says that O’Connor “has many years’ experience in the hard-nosed world of European and Irish politics and public affairs”.

Jan O’Sullivan (Education)

Jan O’Sullivan was another of the Labour class to keep her seats in the 2016 general election. She had two advisers at the time.

Neil Ward, who was an active member of Labour Youth, now works as head of corporate affairs for the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service at the Department of Justice. 

Like a number of other former Labour special advisers, Paul Daly moved into a role in the union movement and was communications manager in the Financial Services union until last December. He also deputy media and communications director in the campaign to re-election Michael D Higgins. 

Heather Humphreys (Arts)

AM4Z3091_90560343 Government Press Secretary Sarah Meade (far right) alongside three ministers.

Heather Humphreys was seen as a surprise inclusion in an Enda Kenny cabinet reshuffle in 2014 but she has since reaffirmed and strengthened her position in Leo Varadkar’s cabinet.

She’s now Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation but neither of her special advisers from 2016 are directly with her. 

Former journalist Sarah Meade was an adviser with Humphreys but she’s now in the role of assistant government press secretary in the Department of the Taoiseach. 

Lorraine Hall’s familial connection to Humphreys (she’s her second cousin) led to some controversy when she was appointed as special adviser but Hall no longer works in government. Instead, Hall now works for lobby group the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland

Alan Kelly (Environment) / YouTube

Alan Kelly famously retained his seat in the 2016 general election and celebrated in full-throated fashion. Kelly had two special advisers at the time. 

Cónán O’Broin is now a media relations specialist at the Central Bank and has also written some commentary about Irish economic affairs. 

In 2017, he wrote in the Irish Independent that the government needed to prepare for every “conceivable contingency plan in place for dealing with the consequences of a hard Brexit”.

Kelly’s other adviser was Jim McGrath, who is now a director at the New York-headquartered business advisory firm Teneo. 

Teneo was co-founded by Alan Kelly’s brother Declan, who remains the firm’s CEO.

Before that, McGrath was policy adviser to Minister of State Mary Mitchell-O’Connor for a short period.

Paul Kehoe (Minister of State for Defence and Chief Whip)

Paul Kehoe is the only minister who is still in the same portfolio as three-and-a-half years ago. He has been in fact in the position for the past seven years, something the Taoiseach referenced in defending him during the recent naval controversy.

Kehoe’s adviser from 2016 Mark O’Doherty is still an adviser but is now with current Education Minister Joe McHugh. His salary has increased from €84,706 to €94,535. 

Kathleen Lynch (Minister of State in Dept of Health)

Kathleen Lynch was not one of the Labour ministers to survive the election and lost her Cork North-Central seat. 

Her adviser Patricia Ryan had previously been CEO of the Limerick City of Culture on a comparatively modest salary of €65,000. Ryan now works a special adviser for Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone and is on a salary of €85,750.

Dara Murphy (Minister of State in Dept of Foreign Affairs)

Dara Murphy’s political career has slowed down since 2016 despite being re-elected that year. The TD was not appointed to Leo Varadkar’s cabinet in 2017 and last year said that he would not be contesting the next general election.

His adviser was Conor Gouldsbury who currently works in the startup sector industry as a public affairs consultant with Dogpatch Labs

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