Meet the Newest Aide to President Higgins. Who Broke the Wage Cap; Opposition Rail against Adviser's [Euro]103k Salary
Byline: Sandra Murphy
THIS is the special adviser to President Michael D Higgins that forced the cashstrapped Government on the defensive after it emerged her salary broke the public sector wage cap.
Mary van Lieshout is being paid [euro]103,472 for her duties as the President's key aide.
The appointment, along with that of communications manager Sarah Martin, means the department has a member of staff more than Mary McAleese's team in Aras an Uachtarain, and it left the Government back-tracking again over its hiring of costly advisers.
The Opposition say the decision to increase staff is to reward the Labour party candidate, President Higgins, for his successful election.
The information, released following a Freedom of Information request, revealed how Michael D Higgins spent [euro]37,389 more than allowed by pay rules on his image.
The Government also gave Aras an Uachtarain permission to increase staff levels by one after the President wrote to Brendan Howlin in January about staffing plans.
The Minister of Public Expenditure approved the extra post after the officials from the President agreed to cut the cost of the role from elsewhere in his budget.
In an email on January 24, Dermot Quigley, a senior official at the Department of Public Expenditure, said it was 'envisaged that the two posts would be pitched at the minimum of the principal officer and assistant principal standard scales ... in line with arrangement for special advisers generally'.
This would have meant a salary of [euro]80,051 for Miss van Lieshout and [euro]61,966 for Miss Martin, according to the Sunday Times.
But on February 10, Loughlin Quinn, an official at Aras an Uachtarain, said the successful candidate was already on the maximum point of the principal officer scale ([euro]103,472), and it was intended to hire her on this salary for three years, subject to a review after 12 months.
The department sanctioned a salary of [euro]75,934 for Miss Martin and [euro]103,472 for Miss van Lieshout thus topping the Government pay cap.
Miss van Lieshout, from Wisconsin and formerly the head of research and standards development with the National Disability Authority, was chosen as President Higgins' special adviser in February.
She had previously worked with Oxfam and with the Eastern Regional Health Authority, and had campaigned against the invasion of Iraq on the US Citizens in Ireland group for Alternatives to War.
After leaving the RTE press office, Sarah Martin also became his communications manager in April.
Fianna Fail's spokesman Sean Fleming TD said the decision to increase staff was about the Labour party 'looking after' their own.
He said: 'This Government is saying one thing and doing the complete opposite when it affects them. 'Mr Higgins was in the Labour party and now they are looking after him. They breach the pay cap when it suits them. …