The three Government parties have “a hell of a lot of advisers” who are costing an estimated €2 million a year to pay, it was claimed in the Dáil.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said it appeared that the Coalition would appoint 21 advisers including two for the Government Chief Whip and one for the Minister of State for European Affairs.
He said he understood “there is a bit of a dispute” between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar about whether there would be a “school of advisers” for Ministers of State or if they would have individual ones.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that “even legions of advisers can’t save the Government when it is clueless” about what it’s doing.
Ms McDonald said she had “never seen so much incoherence emanate from any administration” and while the bar was high for bad government “your Government is right up there. It’s exceeded all expectations in a way that’s dramatic”
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said that in opposition Mr Martin would regularly berate Mr Varadkar when taoiseach for excessive reliance on PR and accuse that government of “spin”.
He said it was “quite extraordinary” to have 21 advisers on top of which a PR firm would be employed as a “buffer” between the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and the Government. He said the firm would “dilute and finesse the message because the Government has got it so wrong and made such a mess”.
But Mr Martin staunchly defended the Government’s approach and rounded on Ms McDonald, claiming that Sinn Féin “is no stranger to special advisers”.
“It invented the whole concept to an extraordinary degree in the Northern Ireland Executive, where it has SPADs (special advisers) as the deputy calls them, all over the place.”
He said Ms McDonald “has some neck to talk to people about incoherence when Sinn Féin as a party has been in denial for so long about the blatant breaching of guidelines that happened at the late Bobby Storey’s funeral”.
During Taoiseach’s Questions, Mr Martin outlined a range of policy advisers appointed to his office and that of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.
He said a number of reforms outlined in the programme for government had been implemented “to ensure openness and constructive cooperation” across the three parties including the appointment of additional advisers.
He said there would not be a “school” of advisers but some would be appointed to a number of Ministers of State. He insisted he had always accepted the need for advisers and in opposition he had never focused on special advisers but on the “political communications unit”. He had fundamental issues with its structure and how parliament and Government should work.
In reference to the appointment of a PR firm, the Taoiseach said “the Department of Health has hired advice for public health dimensions, but the Government as a whole has not”.