THE government created a special allowance for Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty because rules prohibited them from paying more than two Junior Ministers who sat at the Cabinet table.
After the election, three ‘super’ Juniors were appointed – all of whom should have been entitled to an extra €15,829-a-year for attending Cabinet meetings.
However, the government discovered that legislation allowed for only two of them to be paid to the additional money.
The allowance was allocated to Minister Paul Kehoe and Minister Finian McGrath, which would have left Regina Doherty without the extra payment.
But instead of cutting her out of the loop, the government came up with a brand new allowance for the Chief Whip – which is valued at the exact same amount.
The allowance did not exist during the last government when Paul Kehoe filled the position of Chief Whip, and he was instead paid the bonus for “ministers of state attending Cabinet”.
Documents obtained under FOI reveal that plans to pay the normal allowance to three different ministers were underway but had to be halted suddenly.
An email from the Department of the Taoiseach last summer explained: “[We can] confirm that the number of Ministers of State who attend Cabinet Meetings – under the current Government – has increased to three.”
However, days later the plan ran into difficulties when it was discovered only two could get the extra payment.
Sent from the Department of Public Expenditure, an email said: “The sanction [to pay all three] … is withdrawn with immediate effect as we’ve run into a problem – there are now three Super Juniors in this government.
“But the relevant legislation only provides for payment of the allowance to no more than two. So this will need to be addressed. In the meantime, please do not pay it, or cancel it if you have already started and recoup any amounts already paid please.”
A month later, the allowances were still not being paid to any of the three super-junior ministers as attempts were made to resolve the problem.
By September, it had been confirmed that Minister Finian McGrath at the Department of Health would definitely get the extra allowance.
A briefing note said: “We are awaiting clarification from the Department of the Taoiseach on the second Minister of State to be paid the allowance.”
In November, it was finally confirmed that the second minister to get the allowance would be Paul Kehoe. And to get around the problem of excluding one of them, a brand new position had been added to the list of allowances.
It was ‘Government Whip’, and the allowance payable for the role was €15,829 … exactly what would have been payable to the others.
A submission explained: “Following discussions with the Department of the Taoiseach, it is proposed that the position of ‘Government Whip’ be included under the ‘specified positions’ in Dáil Éireann at the same rate payable to Ministers of State attending Cabinet.
“This reflects the fact that under the legislation, only two Ministers of State may be paid the allowance for attending Cabinet meetings.”
That meant all three were paid the €15,829 annual payment, along with their standard TD salary of €87,258 and a ministerial allowance of €34,381 – it makes their annual packages worth €137,468 each.
A few other small changes were made to allowances with increases for both the whip and assistant whip of Sinn Féin.
The Sinn Féin whip position rose from €5,520 to €9,200 with an increase to €4,600 from €2,760 for the assistant position, to reflect the party’s larger size. Similarly, Labour’s assistant whip position was cut in half to €2,760.
Payment of almost all the allowances ended up being delayed until Christmas with documents suggesting some politicians were querying why it was taking so long.
One email said: “I believe some Members have been wondering when payment can be expected.”
Minister Paschal Donohoe even ended up involved asking if the allowances could “be paid by Christmas”, according to records.
Mr Donohoe signed off on a final submission with only one change ensuring that assistant whips for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would be paid at the same level of €8,740.
He explained in a note: “I want to develop the principle that parties of equivalent size are paid the same amount. That’s my only change – please make this amendment and I will bring to government.”
Thankfully, all payments except one did end up going through in the December payroll. “Thank you all for doing this – much appreciated,” wrote Minister Donohoe.
FOI documents below – there is a lot of material so if you want to have a dig around, you’ll need some spare time.