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Varadkar appoints eighth special adviser days before Dáil recess

By Conor O’Carroll

The Government has announced the appointment of a new special adviser to the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, just days before the Dáil adjourned until mid-September for the summer break.

The appointment order is dated 11 July and was included in the 14 July edition of Iris Oifigiúil – Ireland’s official public record – however, it is only today that it has been confirmed as Jim D’Arcy.

He will join the nine special advisers currently employed by the Department of An Taoiseach – seven by the Taoiseach and two by Chief Whip and Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton.

Ordinarily, the number of special advisers a Minister can have is limited to two, though this rule does not apply to the Taoiseach, Tánaiste or leader of any political party.

As a result, An Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, has five special advisers, while Eamon Ryan has eight – two of which are employed on a job-share basis.

The appointment of special advisers requires Government approval and the order confirming their appointment is published as a statutory instrument.

The appointment order states that D’Arcy’s role has been effective from 16 January 2023, meaning 191 days have elapsed since his appointment and the release of the statutory instrument.

This is the longest delay in announcement for the current crop of special advisers, but this practice isn’t unusual.

Following the rotation of the Taoiseach in December last year, Ministers were required to re-appoint their special advisers. Analysis of each statutory instrument released since then shows that on average 94 days elapse between appointment and public notification.

Noel Byrne’s appointment as special adviser to Fianna Fáil TD and Minister of State Anne Rabbitte on 21 December 2022 was signed by the Taoiseach on 4 May 2023, 66 days after he had left the post on 28 February.

In total, fifteen of the 55 appointments were not officially announced until over 100 days after their start date as listed on the order.

A further 23 announcements came more than 90 days after the appointment.

The shortest gap between appointment and the statutory instrument being signed was 38 days, when Fiona Campbell was appointed as special adviser to Fine Gael TD and Minister for State Neale Richmond.

Just ten appointment orders were signed within 60 days of the position being filled.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Taoiseach stated “it is common for there to be a delay between the effective date of appointment and the making of the Order given the practicalities involved”.

No response was offered when clarity was sought as to what these practicalities entailed.

Further discrepancies arise when these statutory instruments are compared to the list of special advisers published by the government.

The appointment order of Patrick Cluskey and Fiach Kelly as special advisers to the Taoiseach was signed on 16 May 2023 – 151 days after their appointment – but neither official appears in the list of special advisers published by the government.

Responding to a parliamentary question submitted by Independent TD Violet-Anne Wynne earlier this month, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee confirmed that both were employed at the Department of Justice as her special advisers.

The spokesperson for the Department of the Taoiseach continued, “The addition of the two advisers to the Department of the Taoiseach was a temporary measure due to the arrangements for maternity leave for Minister McEntee. The omission of the names of the two advisers from the list published by the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery & Reform was an oversight and the list will be updated in due course”.

Despite the list purporting to be accurate as of 11 July, Jim D’Arcy too is not on the list, at the time of writing.

The total salaries of those employed by the various Ministers and Ministers of State comes to just over €5 million, though this figure does not include Patrick Cluskey, Fiach Kelly or the Taoiseach’s latest appointment.

It also does not include any incremental increases earned over time or the 2% pay rise received by civil servants as part of the 2023 public sector pay increase applied from March 2023.

The salaries range from €51,679 (as part of a job share arrangement) to €195,137, though the two highest earners – Deirdre Gillane (€195,137) and Brian Murphy (€185,350) – have voluntarily returned an unknown amount of their salary.

Alan Ahearne, special adviser to An Tánaiste Micheál Martin, does not receive any salary as he is on part-time secondment from NUIG.

Of the 50 special advisers to receive a salary, 35 earn in excess of €100,000.

It is as yet unclear how much the Taoiseach’s latest appointment will earn.