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Saturday 10 December 2016

Taoiseach comes under fire as junior ministers increased to 18

Minister Catherine Byrne (Photo: Tom Burke)
Minister Catherine Byrne (Photo: Tom Burke)

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has come under fire for increasing the number of junior ministers from 15 to 18, the most since the boom years.

Mr Kenny's new team is second only in size to the 20 appointed by Bertie Ahern in June 2007.

Just three new Ministers of State are from Dublin. Fine Gael TDs Eoghan Murphy and Catherine Byrne joined "super junior" Finian McGrath of the Independent Alliance, who was previously named as a minister.

Drugs

Dublin Bay South TD Mr Murphy - who had been tipped for a senior Cabinet role as he was involved in government-formation talks - was given the junior finance portfolio, seen as one of the top jobs on offer.

Ms Byrne from Dublin South Central is minister for communities and national drugs strategy, while Dublin Bay North's Mr McGrath was previously announced as minister for disabilities. He has a seat at Cabinet but does not vote.

The number of junior ministers was cut from 20 to 15 as the recession intensified in 2009 and the last government kept to that number in 2011.

Each junior minister is entitled to an extra €34,000 a year, on top of a TD's yearly salary of €87,000, along with additional staff and the right to hire two civilian drivers to drive the new appointees' own cars.

Labour leader Joan Burton, who was in Cabinet with Mr Kenny up to a fortnight ago, blasted the decision to increase the number of junior ministers.

"I find it remarkable that the number of Ministers of State appointed has increased from 15 to 18, and is fast approaching the record set by Bertie Ahern of 20," Ms Burton said.

"The state finances have certainly improved in the last two to three years, but have they really improved to the extent where we can afford the luxury of so many ministers? I don't think so," Ms Burton said.

Stronger

Fianna Fail also condemned the move. "The Taoiseach certainly seems keen to find a job for everyone in the Fine Gael parliamentary party," a spokesman said.

But the Taoiseach said the appointments showed that his government was "putting a stronger emphasis on important policy areas, particularly on the Department of Health, to which four Ministers of State will be attached."

Sitting junior ministers Michael Ring, Damien English, Joe McHugh and Dara Murphy have all been kept on as Junior Ministers - but some of them have changed roles.

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