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 Header Item Seanad Reform (Continued)
 Header Item Departmental Staff

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 4

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  4 o’clock

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I look forward to the proponent explaining what a great idea it all is.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin He is an eminent member of the Taoiseach's party - Maurice Manning.

  4 o’clock

Departmental Staff

 4. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar to set out the number of political staff and advisers he has employed; and the role of each.  [41631/17]

 5. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar for details on the political staff and advisers employed by him in his Department; and the name, title, function, salary, terms of employment and location of each.  [41636/17]

 6. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar to outline the policy areas that his appointed advisers have.  [41864/17]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.

There are 20 politically-appointed staff employed by my Department. Nine of these are advisers, including two special advisers to the Government Chief Whip. Those based in my Department in Government Buildings are Brian Murphy, chief of staff, paid at deputy secretary grade; John Carroll, head of policy and programme implementation, paid at assistant secretary grade; Nick Miller, spokesman and communications adviser to the Taoiseach, paid at assistant secretary grade; Patrick Geoghegan, special adviser, paid at assistant secretary grade; Angela Flanagan, special adviser, paid at principal officer grade; Philip O'Callaghan, special adviser, paid at principal officer grade; Jim D'Arcy, special adviser, paid at assistant principal grade; Lisa Tavey, personal assistant, paid at higher executive officer grade; Feargal Purcell, Government press secretary, paid at assistant secretary grade; Catherine Halloran, deputy Government press secretary, paid at principal officer grade – she is principally press officer for the Independent Ministers; Sarah Meade, assistant Government press secretary, paid at principal officer grade; Tony Williams, chief strategist for the Independent Alliance, paid at principal officer grade; Dónall Geoghegan, political co-ordinator for the Independent Ministers, paid at principal officer grade; Mark O'Doherty, who is adviser to the Chief Whip, paid at principal officer grade; Gregory Harkin, special adviser to the Government Chief Whip, paid at principal officer grade; Seosamh Ó Ducháin, civilian driver for the Government Chief Whip; and John McClafferty, civilian driver for the Government Chief Whip.

Those based in the Houses of the Oireachtas who fall under my Vote are Ian O'Brien, civilian driver for Leader of the Seanad, Edward O'Connell, civilian driver for Leader of the Seanad and James O'Grady, personal assistant, paid at higher executive officer grade, who is based in my constituency office. With the exception of Patrick Geoghegan, who is a public servant, all are unestablished civil servants.

The special advisers working in my Department provide briefings and advice on a wide range of policy matters, as well as performing other functions as I may direct from time to time. They also liaise with other special advisers in each Department so that I remain informed on developments throughout Government.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I remind Deputies that we have approximately seven and a half minutes left. I want to ensure the three Deputies get to contribute so please be brief. Deputy Howlin is first.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I have actually lost count of the number. Does the Taoiseach now have eight special advisers? Is that right?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Yes, if we include the Chief Whip and Independent Ministers' staff. They do not actually work to me.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin How many actually work to the Taoiseach? I want to get this correct in my head. He has the chief of staff, Brian Murphy, Nick Miller, Angela Flanagan, Professor Patrick Geoghegan, John Carroll, Philip O'Callaghan, the former Senator, Jim D’Arcy, who is an advisor on the Border and Brexit, and Sarah Meade. Is that right? Are they all the Taoiseach's staff?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar They are.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin That is eight. Is that correct? Is Feargal Purcell still in place? That is another one. On top of that, we have the strategic communications unit. How many staff are in that unit?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I do not know.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin There are six.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Is that six more?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That is a matter for the Secretary General.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Normally, the Taoiseach would answer questions in the House on the staff. We have done it always over the years. There is a formidable volume of additional special advisers and staff over and above those employed by the Taoiseach's predecessor. Do we have a running cost? I would exclude civilian drivers obviously. How much are the political staff going to cost?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I too would like a sense of the costs associated with the Taoiseach's political staff and advisers. The Taoiseach might provide that to us.

Nick Miller is a communications person. Is that correct? There are two press secretaries. What are they doing? What relationship do they have, if any, with the strategic communications unit? Where is the division of labour?

I want the Taoiseach to address another issue. He previously made a claim that the strategic communications unit was cost-neutral. As we know, in the budget the Taoiseach allocated €5 million to that unit. That is hardly cost-neutral. Can the Taoiseach explain that contradiction?

I know the former Senator, Mr. D'Arcy, is the Taoiseach's adviser on the North, the Border and Brexit. Of course it is very good that the Taoiseach has specialist advice on that area. I understand that in a "Spotlight" programme due to broadcast tonight the Taoiseach raises an issue and an objection to the 50% plus one basis for a Border poll or a referendum on Irish unity. I wish to advise the Taoiseach that, although all of us would wish to see such a proposition built consensually and democratically to far exceed a 50% plus one threshold, such is the provision in what is an international legally binding agreement.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin When a civil servant is put into a quasi-political role or when he is appointed to a position without normal procedures, he is appointed under special adviser legislation. This was the practice followed in the past by all Ministers and taoisigh. It is a practice I followed myself. Can the Taoiseach explain why the top two positions in the strategic communications unit were not appointed in the accepted manner? The Taoiseach conceded to the House last week that he went to the head of the strategic communications unit in advance to check his availability and that then, technically, the Secretary General of the Department appointed him. In my view, in the real world, the Taoiseach decided to appoint him. It is a worrying trend that the rules do not apply to the Taoiseach in respect of the appointment to such key positions.

I would appreciate clarification on the case of the deputy head of unit. I stand to be corrected but our information is that the person was appointed originally from outside the civil and public service to the Department of the Taoiseach by the Taoiseach's predecessor as part of the European Council Presidency. Then, subsequently, he was appointed to promote the Action Plan for Jobs. The Taoiseach might clarify whether that person has ever undertaken a competitive interview to be appointed. Is that person still deemed to be a political appointment? Is the person now an established civil servant, as the Taoiseach has claimed? Can the Taoiseach explain how that progression occurred and how that happened? Does the Taoiseach think it is acceptable to politicise Civil Service positions in this manner? I believe that is the core issue. What we have been witnessing in recent times is a blurring of the divide between civil servants who, since the foundation of the State, have always had a non-political role, with the political objectives of the lead party in government.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Thank you, Deputy Martin.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Finally, will the Taoiseach indicate, in respect of the work of the strategic communications unit, why any adverse statistics are released on Friday afternoon? Anything to do with waiting lists, housing lists and so on are released on Friday afternoon or the Friday of a bank holiday.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Thank you.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Will the communications unit be issuing statements providing us with information that is as clear as it possibly can be about record hospital and housing waiting lists?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The level of paranoia about the strategic communications unit really is extraordinary. First, it has absolutely no role whatsoever in producing or issuing statistics. Statistics on waiting lists are released by the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The Central Statistics Office releases other statistics. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government releases other statistics. These bodies have been releasing other statistics long before the SCU was ever created. My Department has no role in telling these bodies when they should or should not produce their numbers.

The top two positions are not political appointees. They are not special advisers. That is why they did not follow the special adviser process. That process is only for special advisers. The head of the SCU was seconded by the Secretary General of my Department. The other position was a re-assignment by the Secretary General of the Department. I did not even know that Ms Pappin was being assigned to that post until after it had happened, which gives a real indication of the extent to which I am involved in these matters.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That is inappropriate.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar When it comes to staffing, it is a matter for an office within my Department. Decisions on the number of staff and on the appointment of individual staff members are made by the Secretary General.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That is not right.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I am not going to be interfering with it. The only role I had whatsoever in it was what I have already put on the record of the House, that is to say, I suggested someone for the head of it. I suggested someone who, as we all know, had done a great job already for Creative Ireland, The Gathering and the 1916 commemorations.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That is not right.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I do not agree that it is inappropriate. For example, when we are appointing Secretaries General to Departments we are given a list of names to choose from.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin We do not give the names. The names are given by the Top Level Appointments Committee.


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