Cronyism row rages as FG's Coonan hires wife
ANOTHER Fine Gael backbencher has become embroiled in a nepotism row after hiring his wife to cover maternity leave.
Noel Coonan has recruited his wife Pauline to work as his paid part-time parliamentary secretary until the end of the month.
Mrs Coonan is also a county councillor in north Tipperary but her TD husband claims he had no other option except to employ her.
The claim follows a storm about how 25 of the country's 166 TDs hired relatives to carry out administrative and other duties.
Deputy Coonan explained: "My parliamentary secretary, Anne Marie Meehan, is on maternity leave. Her leave coincided with the dissolution of the Dail. All contracts end then.
"As such, I couldn't have a replacement for my secretary at that particular time as I had to wait for her to sign a new contract."
Despite Fine Gael pre-election pledges to end cronyism in Irish politics, Mr Coonan admitted to temporarily hiring his wife and rejected the suggestion that the appointment is another example of cronyism.
"Pauline did temporary work in her absence. She has filled in for a few weeks and is acting as secretary. It is a temporary, stand-in paid position."
He said Pauline has been filling in for about six weeks.
"It is not that long a time. It's just a quirk of the system the way it happened. I found myself in these circumstances at the dissolution of the Dail. I found myself without a secretary and we had to issue new contracts and to do that -- you had to get elected.
"The election came quicker than we thought. I wasn't in a position to train somebody to do that job in that length of time," the Fine Gael TD said.
The average annual salary for a parliamentary secretary is €25,000.
Mr Coonan said his wife has been working alongside him without pay for the past few years. "I have always hired outside staff and will continue to do that," he said.
Mr Coonan pointed out that his secretary has signed a new contract and will return to work in a few weeks.