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The people behind the power: Who are Ireland’s political advisers and backroom experts?

A large staff network oversees everything: communication, policy and smooth Coalition relations

Special advisers have become a fixture in Irish politics since the early 1990s, when the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition began their widespread appointment across government. Their purpose was two-fold: manage the implementation of the agreed programme for government and avoid destabilising, public rows between the parties, writes Political Editor Pat Leahy. Read his introduction to this special report here.

Government special advisers who can be recruited either from the private sector or from within the public system are essentially contractors rather than full-time civil servants. If the Government falls or its term ends, or if the minister who appointed them leaves office, their employment in that role ends. Martin Wall and Pat Leahy outline how Ireland’s special political advisers are paid and compensated when their jobs cease.

Government Buildings

Advisers to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar FG Advisers:
Top L-R: Brian Murphy PAT. Philip O’Callaghan
Middle: L-R: Clare Mungovan, Bríd Murphy, Sarah O’Neill
Bottom: L-R: Cliona Doyle, Matthew Lynch, Jim D’Arcy
Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy, chief of staff to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, is the most important Fine Gael adviser in the Coalition Government. Along with Deirdre Gillane of Fianna Fáil and Dónall Geoghegan and Anna Conlon of the Greens, he forms the essential axis at the top of Government that manages relations and avoids conflict between the three parties. He deals closely with the other parties, with the Civil Service and with the Fine Gael parliamentary party and organisation. A long-time Varadkar loyalist, he was a political ally of the young Varadkar when he was chairman of the party’s executive council. Long before that, he served as chairman of Young Fine Gael: he knows the organisation to its core.

He joined the future Taoiseach as a full-time adviser in the Department of Transport when Varadkar was first appointed to Cabinet. He has been at his side since; when Varadkar lodged his nomination papers at party headquarters for the party leadership in 2017, Murphy was with him. Some Fianna Fáilers remember him as the man who asked the question, on RTÉ's Questions & Answers, that led to the downfall of Brian Lenihan snr, the late Fianna Fáil tánaiste, during his run for the presidency, back in 1990. Most of them have got over it. Deputy secretary grade, salary €185,000 (part of his salary gifted back to the State as pay-reduction measure)

Philip O’Callaghan

As the deputy chief of staff to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Philip O’Callaghan has many roles: he is a sounding board for Varadkar, a direct line between the parliamentary party and the Taoiseach’s office and a trusted confidant. He is very much in Varadkar’s inner circle and is a key point of contact between Varadkar and his Coalition partners.

“He’s a big asset to Leo and keeps him fully informed about what’s happening in the party and the wider Coalition,” said a source. Some parts of his job are unenviable: there are clear issues between Fine Gael and the Green Party, including, most recently, a notable disagreement over the future of data centres. O’Callaghan would field a lot of the concerns (and sometimes outright fury) from within Fine Gael and provide his intel to Varadkar, helping to smooth over the internal rumblings. Those who have watched him work at close quarters say he keeps a keen eye on Varadkar’s electoral success but also mucks in helping with the party’s ardfheis and other key upcoming dates in the political diary.

He is described by those who work with him as being “Leo’s eyes and ears in terms of what the TDs and Senators are saying”. Publicly, he cuts a quiet and reserved figure but privately he is known to be canny and strategic. He is a native of Castleknock in west Dublin and unsuccessfully ran for Fingal County Council in 2014 before becoming a policy adviser for Varadkar. He shares Varadkar’s passion for fitness and frequently updates his social media followers with his cross-fit challenges. Assistant secretary grade, salary €151,137

Clare Mungovan

One of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s most trusted advisers, Clare Mungovan zeros in on key policy issues and maintains a direct link between other Government advisers and the Taoiseach’s office. One of her top tasks is ensuring Varadkar has all the information he needs for his weekly appearances at Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil. She ensures that all other advisers are feeding up-to-date information into the mega-binder that the Taoiseach brings with him into Leaders’ Questions. She has been a special adviser since January 2018 and before this qualified as a solicitor.

“All week she keeps an eye on what issues are coming up, making sure that all the advisers are feeding their information into that Leaders’ Questions book. She is one of Varadkar’s best advisers and keeps across major policy areas such as health and would be very much in touch with the other Coalition parties. On a personal level, she is easy to work with, very diplomatic, not someone you would catch in a blazing argument,” a Government source said. She studied Law and European studies in the University of Limerick and has held different roles since she began her political career in 2012, including as a research officer for the Fine Gael press office. Principal officer grade, salary €110,811

Bríd Murphy

A former employee of the Red Flag consultancy firm, Bríd Murphy began working as a social media and regional organiser for Fine Gael in 2012. While in Red Flag, she became one of the employees caught up in what would become a lengthy legal case after businessman Denis O’Brien claimed Red Flag was involved in preparing, for an unidentified client, a dossier of material about him which he asserted was defamatory. Murphy now advises the Taoiseach on a broad range of matters from the recent referendums to the ongoing crisis within RTÉ. She travels a lot with the Taoiseach to his various diary engagements and keeps a watching brief over his domestic engagements, whether with the media or otherwise. She has experience as a crisis-management professional and speech writer. Principal officer grade, salary €95,301

Sarah O’Neill

Another of the Taoiseach’s advisers, Sarah O’Neill feeds into a wide brief which includes everything from medium-term planning on Fine Gael’s manifesto to examining climate change policies and issues. She worked with Richard Bruton when he was minister for the environment and so has a breadth of experience which she feeds into longer-term planning on the topic. Those who work with her say she is easy to approach and “a straight talker” with a cool head. She also previously worked as a parliamentary adviser to Bruton. Principal officer grade, salary €110,811

Cliona Doyle

Formerly of the Fine Gael press office, Cliona Doyle shares the workload of the Government press secretary Nick Miller, stepping in when he is away. She is effectively one of the Taoiseach’s most senior press officers and she has a key role in organising his engagements and media requests. She is known to be laid-back but keeps a very close eye on the media coverage of the work of the Taoiseach and his office. She started out as a senior account manager in public relations firm DHR Communications before going on to spend more than nine years in various press roles for Fine Gael. Principal officer grade, salary €95,301

Matthew Lynch

Matthew Lynch is another member of Leo Varadkar’s team of advisers and is a key figure working on the future manifesto of Fine Gael. While he is very much trusted by the Taoiseach, he is not considered to be as close to Varadkar’s inner circle as some of the other advisers. He is described as being “intellectually sharp” and journalists regard him as being very cautious. He spent nearly two years as Fine Gael’s head of policy and research before going on to hold five different special adviser positions. Principal officer grade, salary €110,811

Jim D’Arcy

Former Fine Gael Senator Jim D’Arcy is described, among Varadkar’s team, as being the Taoiseach’s “Northern adviser” and the go-to man on all issues relating to the Border, Brexit, East-West and North-South matters. One Government source said he is a point of contact between Varadkar and the Shared Ireland Unit, which was originally established by Tánaiste Micheál Martin when he was taoiseach. D’Arcy was a one-time general election candidate who was appointed to the upper house by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2011. He previously worked as a Government representative with the Council of Europe and liaises closely with British-Irish section officials. He was first elected to Louth County Council in 1999 and Dundalk Town Council in 2004, and is a lifetime member of Fine Gael. Principal officer grade, salary €40,998 (workshare)

Advisers to Tánaiste Micheál Martin

Tánaiste Micheál Martin FF Advisers:
Top: Grainne Weld
Botton: Sharon McGowan, Pat McParland, Alan Ahearne
Deirdre Gillane

Gillane is the top Fianna Fáil adviser and, along with her Fine Gael counterpart Brian Murphy, one of the most important people in Government Buildings for simply making the administration work. She deals with relations with the other party leaders, sits in on all significant meetings, keeps a watch on the parliamentary party and generally acts as Martin’s gatekeeper, closest confidante and, sometimes, enforcer. As his chief of staff, Gillane is the most important of a small and tight group of advisers, many of whom have been with Micheál Martin for years. She joined his staff when he was minister for health – a former nurse, she was an official with the nurses’ union at the time and, except for a period when she was summoned to help then-taoiseach Brian Cowen, she has been with Martin since. She is considered tough but fair and totally loyal to her boss. From Cork, she is a fierce GAA and rugby fan. Deputy secretary grade, salary: €195,000 (part of her salary gifted back to the State as pay-reduction measure)

Gráinne Weld

Another former research officer who went into the then Taoiseach’s office, Weld works to prepare Martin for Leader’s Questions and when he was in the top job, Taoiseach’s questions. She and Charlotte Simpson (see below) are credited by some colleagues in other parties with hard work, especially at the start of the Government, working long days – from 7am to 10pm is not uncommon – and knitting together the Taoiseach’s office and unfamiliar line ministers. As one source says, a few eyebrows were raised when she joined because her father is a Fine Gael councillor. But she has converted the non-believers. Principal officer grade, salary €103,358 (currently on leave)

Charlotte Simpson

A former barrister, Charlotte Simpson is seen as a no-nonsense operator who worked as a parliamentary assistant for former Independent TD Shane Ross for a year when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport before joining the research office in Fianna Fáil as an analyst. She worked as an adviser to Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne during his stint as Minister for European Affairs. Simpson previously worked in the Taoiseach’s office and has returned to Martin’s team to cover for Weld. Principal officer grade, salary €103,358

Sharon McGowan

Worked as a journalist in Dublin and Melbourne before working as political correspondent with the Irish Daily Mail and, later, The Sunday Times. Joined Martin’s team after he rotated into the Tánaiste’s office at a time there were fears in some quarters he could be eclipsed by Leo Varadkar’s return as Taoiseach. She is seen as having a role ensuring his foreign trips get coverage. Principal officer grade, salary €97,207

Pat McParland

Another long-time Martin adviser and Fianna Fáil veteran, Pat McParland served as deputy general secretary for communications and policy during the final months of Brian Cowen’s government. McParland studied in Trinity College Dublin in the mid-1990s, working in the 2000s in public relations in Belfast and as director of corporate affairs in Northern Ireland Water. He was closely involved in Brexit strategy for Fianna Fáil in opposition and had been pegged as a likely Government press secretary but his fortunes lay elsewhere. In Government, he focuses on Northern Irish issues and Anglo-Irish relations, as well as being Martin’s main speechwriting “pen”. Firmly part of the Micheál Martin inner circle, like Gillane, McParland is described as intensely loyal to the leader, although to some colleagues his role in Government appears less pronounced than the chief of staff’s. “He’s Deirdre’s right-hand man in one way, but I couldn’t tell you what he actually does,” said one Coalition figure. However, he is part of a small cohort that undoubtedly has Martin’s ear when key decisions are made. Assistant Secretary grade, salary €165,451

Diarmuid Lynch

Diarmuid Lynch is part of a cohort in the Tánaiste’s office who came from the Fianna Fáil research office. A number of research office alumni work as advisers in other Fianna Fáil departments. Lynch previously worked in Brussels in the European Parliament and on EU affairs for an employers’ group. He deals a lot in agriculture and rural affairs and liaises with Independents. One source described him as a dyed-in-the-wool Fianna Fáiler and an “eternal optimist” for the fortunes of the party. Principal officer grade, €103,358

Alan Ahearne

Professor of Economics at the University of Galway, Ahearne had a significant profile during the financial crisis as special adviser to then Fianna Fáil finance minister Brian Lenihan. In the current Coalition, he works on big-picture economic policy questions, as a sounding board for Martin – especially during budgets, when he interacts with Minister for Finance Michael McGrath and his team as well. Week to week, he advises Martin on agenda items for the Cabinet subcommittee on the economy, which the Tánaiste chairs, and was closely involved in various post-Covid economic recovery plans. He has an input on all the big economic policy decisions the Government has taken, including the change on the 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate. Assistant secretary equivalent (Part-time secondment from University of Galway)

Advisers to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan at Department of the Taoiseach

Eamon Ryan GP: Party Leader Advisers:
Top L-R Donall Geoghegan, Anna Conlan 
Bottom L-R Eamonn Fahey, Niamh Allen, David Healy
Dónall Geoghegan

Along with Anna Conlon, Dónall Geoghegan is Eamon Ryan’s joint chief of staff. Widely experienced, he has in the past served a variety of different political masters. Though a Green by conviction – he was an adviser to the party’s former leader John Gormley during the 2007-11 coalition, and a former general secretary of the party – he served as campaign manager for independent presidential candidate Seán Gallagher in 2011. He later re-entered Government service as an adviser to Katherine Zappone and other Independent ministers during the Fine Gael-independent minority administration between 2016 and 2020. He has held a number of public affairs and strategy roles in the NGO sector. Quietly spoken and happy to remain in the background, he is tough and resolute behind closed doors. Assistant secretary grade, salary €165,451

Anna Conlan

If politicians are fond of talking about playing senior hurling, Anna Conlon is one of the few in the arena who has played senior football – in her case for her native Leitrim. She was central to Ryan’s rebuilding of the party, especially after he won back a Dáil seat in 2016, after which she served as his parliamentary assistant. She is highly regarded in a sometimes fractious party organisation. She has a degree in ocean and earth sciences from the University of Galway, and further qualifications in leadership and languages. Along with Dónall Geoghegan, she sits in on all important meetings and, with other senior advisers from the Coalition parties, often has to hammer out compromises to solve political problems. She is currently on maternity leave. Assistant secretary grade, salary €165,451

Éamonn Fahey

Éamonn Fahey is the acting joint chief of staff in the Green Party’s leader’s office at the Department of the Taoiseach. Before that, he was an adviser to all Green Party ministers, working from the Taoiseach’s department. He has an MSc from Trinity College Dublin and worked as a researcher with the Green Party in the year leading up to the 2020 general election. Before that he had research roles with Government think tank the Economic and Social Research Institute, and did stints with the Pensions Authority and the Department of Social Protection. Principal officer grade, salary €103,358

David Healy & Niamh Allen

David Healy and Niamh Allen job-share their special advisers’ roles in Government Buildings. Healy is a long-standing climate change activist who has worked with several environmental NGOs. He is also a Green councillor based in Howth and came close to winning a seat in the Dáil in 2020. His expertise is in climate change. Allen has a long history with the party. After completing an MA in international relations in the University of Limerick, she began working with Ciarán Cuffe in 2005, and has worked on and off for the party since then. She was Cuffe’s campaign manager for his European election in 2019 and became a special adviser in 2020. Like other advisers, she is available to all Green ministers and has an expertise in social policy and in political campaigns. Principal officer grade (part-time), salaries €55,405

Government press secretaries

Advisers: Govt Press Secretaries
Fine Gael: Nick Miller 
Fianna Fáil: Paul Clarkson 
Green Party: Aidan Corkery
Nick Miller (Fine Gael)

Affable, unflappable Government press secretary Nick Miller has been a member of Varadkar’s backroom teams since he was in the Department of Transport, having been plucked from the Fine Gael press office. Before that, English-born Miller worked as a reporter for a number of local titles. He is in his second stint in the press secretary’s role, having already served there when his boss was previously taoiseach. He swapped roles with Paul Clarkson when the switchover in the Taoiseach’s office happened in late 2022. Assistant secretary grade, salary €156,000 to €178,000

Paul Clarkson (Fianna Fáil)

Hong Kong-born, Belfast-educated Clarkson came to Fianna Fáil by an unusual route: he was previously group managing editor of The Sun newspaper in London, a senior position in Rupert Murdoch’s famously competitive, and sometimes rough-and-tumble, newspaper empire. Before that he was editor of The Irish Sun, the paper’s Dublin edition. Moving back to Ireland in 2020, he took time to adjust and learn the ways of Leinster House and Government Buildings, but he is thorough and prompt in his dealings with journalists. Assistant secretary grade, salary €156,000 to €178,000

Aiden Corkery (Green Party)

Raised on a family farm a few miles outside Tralee, Co Kerry, Corkery is another journalist-turned-spin doctor. He began his career with The Kerryman newspaper and later served in a number of roles in the national media, including as news editor with the Irish Daily Mail and, most recently, political correspondent with the Business Post. He took over as the Green Party’s government spokesman in 2021. Along with colleagues Nick Miller and Paul Clarkson, he faces political correspondents every week for the post-Cabinet briefing. He is regarded as dogged in defence of the Green Party’s interests, sometimes texting journalists in the morning to dispute what he regards as unfair or inaccurate coverage, but is respected by the political correspondents. Principal officer grade, salary €98,000 to €122,000

Adviser to Attorney General Rossa Fanning SC

Advisers: Attorney General
Christopher McMahon
Christopher McMahon

The special adviser to Attorney General Rossa Fanning is Christopher McMahon, a 27-year-old Dubliner. He graduated first in his class in Trinity, where he studied law and political science, before going on to a postgraduate degree in law at Oxford University. He returned to complete a PhD in law at Trinity – his thesis was on EU state aid law – and was called to the bar in 2020. One person who works with him described him as “exceptionally brainy”. Like his boss, McMahon has no record of political affiliation, but his CV boasts an outstanding academic record. Principal officer grade, salary €98,000 to €122,000

Special advisers to Ministers

Advisers to Eamon Ryan at Departments of Environment, Climate and Communications, and Transport

L-R: Paul Kenny, Edel Hackett
Paul Kenny

Paul Kenny is Eamon Ryan’s principal adviser on energy, climate change and the environment. He came into the role with a formidable CV. The former chief executive of Tipperary Energy Agency is an expert on sustainable energy, retrofitting and energy technology. An engineer by profession, the early part of his career was spent working with consumer products giant Procter & Gamble. Kenny has assumed wide responsibilities in a massive department and is the go-to person for the overarching strategies (and the detail) on wind energy, solar energy, sustainability, retrofitting, and tidal energy. He is also a very skilled communicator. Principal Officer grade, salary €110,811

John McDonald

John McDonald is Ryan’s chief adviser in the Department of Transport. (Ryan is responsible for two government departments: environment and transport). He holds degrees in philosophy and law from the universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow in Scotland. His whole career has been with the Green Party, first as an assistant to Ryan from 2016 onwards, and then as his parliamentary assistant. He was campaign manager for the Green Party for the 2020 general election and was appointed a special adviser for Ryan in 2020. Principal Officer grade, salary €103,358

Edel Hackett

Edel Hackett succeeded former RTÉ journalist Margaret Ward and brought a breadth of experience to her role as Ryan’s communications adviser in his two departments. A former public affairs specialist with Montague Communications, she has also worked independently as an advocacy specialist. Hackett has a masters in human rights law from the University of Galway. She is efficient, active and low-key, someone is in the top tier of PR advisers to the Government. Principal Officer grade, salary €95,301

Adviser to Minister for Finance Michael McGrath

Michael McGrath FF Advisers: Grant Sweetnam
Grant Sweetnam

Previously with PricewaterHouseCoopers and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in Cork, Sweetnam succeeded Kevin Barrett (see below) as economic adviser to Fianna Fáil in opposition in 2016 when Barrett returned to the private sector. Barrett returned to McGrath’s team when the current Coalition was formed in 2020 and works alongside Sweetnam. McGrath’s adviser team is unusual in that he eschews a traditional split between policy and media advisers, with Sweetnam and Barrett acting interchangeably in both roles at times, although Sweetnam is seen as taking on more responsibility for constituency affairs. Principal officer grade, salary €103,358

Kevin Barrett

Kevin Barrett was one of a number of Fianna Fáil players who assumed influence in the party after its disastrous general election of 2011, alongside younger TDs who survived the massacre such as Dara Calleary and McGrath, now Barrett’s boss. They saw their job as restoring the credibility of the party on the economy. He worked as Fianna Fáil’s economic policy adviser from 2011 to 2016 before moving to the private sector. When the party returned to Government in 2020, his installation in a position of influence was guaranteed.

One colleague deemed him “FF from the backbone out” (Barrett’s dog is said to be named Charlie after Charlie Haughey). McGrath trusts Barrett implicitly, and his influence across economic and financial policymaking is significant. He is an instinctive fiscal conservative, although someone who colleagues believe shares some of the left-leaning sensibilities of his boss. The spendthrift stance of the current Coalition runs contrary to his instincts. He is among the most universally liked and respected advisers in the Coalition whose instinct for politics is appreciated, especially when managing budget demands. He placed a huge importance on delivering the first budget from a Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance in more than a decade and on the party holding the brief as the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) – two vehicles created by the last Fianna Fáil government in order to work out the mess created by the financial crisis – are wound down. Principal officer grade, salary €110,452

Advisers to Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe

Paschal Donohoe FG Advisers: L-R Deborah Sweeney
Fiona O’Connor
Deborah Sweeney

Deborah Sweeney worked with Fine Gael from 2006 to 2013 in a wide variety of roles, from director of media and research for the party to Dublin and national press officer. She was appointed as a special ministerial adviser Donohoe in January 2014 and has worked with him in all of his ministerial briefs since then, including European Affairs, Transport and Finance. Sweeney holds a degree in media production management and manages press matters for the minister. Principal Officer grade, salary €114,347

Fiona O’Connor

Fiona O’Connor joined the Fine Gael executive in 2018 and became chairwoman the following year. She was involved in Donohoe’s election campaigns in 2016 and 2020 and took on the role of special adviser in August 2021, following the departure of his adviser Ed Brophy. O’Connor previously worked in public relations and communications for PR agency Drury and looks after policy for the minister. Principal Officer grade, salary €114,347

Advisers to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly

Stephen Donnelly FF Advisers
Left-Right Páraic Gallagher Susan Mitchell
Susan Mitchell

During her time as health editor and deputy editor with the Sunday Business Post, Mitchell was one of the most respected reporters and commentators on the health system. Pitched directly into the public health crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Mitchell was part of a team in health that faced initial trials as Donnelly came under unrelenting pressure. She has gone toe-to-toe with officials at times. Very focused on policy, Mitchell came into the department with strong ideas about reform, a subject on which she is not afraid to articulate. Some Coalition figures at first thought she struggled to perfect the political side of landing policies or of tending to backbenchers. Colleagues say she has displayed resilience since then. Principal officer grade, salary €110,811

Páraic Gallagher

Gallagher was Newstalk’s political correspondent until 2017, before moving into public relations and joining Donnelly at the start of 2021. Aside from the pandemic, there have been few true full-scale crises in health and the opposition tends to target housing more. But it is never an easy brief. Colleagues credit Gallagher with putting structure on Donnelly’s approach and helping to move him beyond the “embattled” space by focusing on specific policies. He is said to be canny at seeing around corners and syncing up positive messages at traditionally difficult times for Ministers for Health. Neither he nor Mitchell are seen as Fianna Fáil animals, which is unusual for advisers in that party. But then again, neither is their boss. Principal officer grade, salary €99,345

Advisers to Minister for Education Norma Foley

Norma Foley FF Advisers: Áine Doyle, Michael Brennan
Áine Doyle

Áine Doyle, from Newbawn in Wexford, is one of the youngest special advisers in Government, having been appointed by Norma Foley in 2020 at the age of 27. She is the minister’s policy adviser. She has an outstanding academic record having won a scholarship to the Li Po Chun United World College in Hong Kong in 2010 and then completing a BA in political science and German at Brown University in Rhode Island in the US. She has been an elite competitor in equestrian sports. Principal Officer grade, salary scale €98,000 to €122,000

Michael Brennan

Former journalist Michael Brennan has only been in the position since October after another former journalist, Eoin Murphy, stepped down from the role as Foley’s press adviser. Brennan was the political editor with the Sunday Business Post and worked as a journalist for 21 years with national publications. His decision to take on the role was seen as a surprise given that it came within 18 months of the end of the Government. Brennan has vast experience in political journalism and is the author of a well-received book on the water-charges controversy. A native of north Galway, he is low-key, strong on detail and data, and regarded as being cool-headed. Principal Officer grade, salary scale €98,000 to €122,000

Advisers to Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney FG Advisers; Left-Right Chris Donoghue Laura McGonigle
Chris Donoghue

Former Newstalk reporter and presenter Chris Donoghue has greater name recognition among the public than many of his behind-the-scenes colleagues. He will be remembered for years of early morning banter with breakfast radio co-host, former Fine Gael minister Ivan Yates before their last show together in 2016. In 2017 Donoghue left radio to take a job as Coveney’s special adviser while the Fine Gael man was minister for foreign affairs. Ireland won a seat on the United Nations Security Council during this time. Donoghue would later have to deal with media queries during the long-running controversy over Coveney’s ill-fated bid to appoint former Independent minister Katherine Zappone as a special envoy to the UN. He stayed on as Coveney’s press adviser after the December 2022 reshuffle that saw the Cork TD become Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Principal officer grade, salary €114,347

Laura McGonigle

Laura McGonigle has qualifications in accountancy and law and worked in the private sector prior before her career as a political adviser. She was co-opted on to Cork City Council for Fine Gael after Deirdre Clune was elected to the Dáil in 2007. McGonigle was unsuccessful in a bid to be elected to the Seanad in 2011. She went on to work as a political adviser to Clune after the Cork politician’s election to the European Parliament in 2014. McGonigle became a special adviser to Coveney in 2019 while he was minister for foreign affairs and continues to work with him in his current role at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Principal officer grade, salary €101,811

Advisers to Minister for Agriculture and Food Charlie McConalogue

Charlie McConalogue FF Advisers: Amii McKeever
Amii McKeever

Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McConalogue has changed both of his special advisers in the past year, as Patrick Donohoe and Darran Brennan returned to their previous roles in the agri-food business. Former journalist Amii McKeever is his new communications adviser and came to the job with an impressive CV, having been editor of Irish Country Living and previously held roles with the IFA and Glanbia. Principal officer grade, salary €109,548

Ciaran O’Donnell

Ciaran O’Donnell has recently joined the Department of Agriculture as McConalogue’s special adviser and, like McKeever, is a former journalist. All of his media experience has been based in his, and McConalogue’s, home county of Donegal where he held senior roles with regional media organisation the Donegal Democrat. Principal Officer grade, salary €98,665

Advisers to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee

Helen McAntee FG Advisers
Left-Right Caroline Murphy  Patrick Cluskey
Caroline Murphy

Following the departure of Fiach Kelly, formerly deputy political editor with The Irish Times, to Guinness owner Diageo late last year, former RTÉ journalist Caroline Murphy has taken up the reins as press adviser to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. She will be well used to the role, having served as press adviser to Charlie Flanagan when he was minister for justice. She also worked with the Green Party super junior minister Pippa Hackett from 2020 to 2022. She is married to the journalist and former RTÉ radio presenter Sean O’Rourke.

Being a minister in the Department of Justice can be a notoriously difficult position, so it is Murphy’s job to keep an eye on the many brewing storms and manage McEntee’s media engagements and appearances. Then there is the question of the future leadership of Fine Gael: McEntee is ambitious but she is also close to Leo Varadkar and one of his most trusted ministers. So while McEntee wouldn’t be plotting behind the scenes, there is every chance that she will be a leadership candidate when the time comes. A higher stakes game means more pressure for Murphy. Principal officer grade, salary €116,634

Patrick Cluskey

Patrick Cluskey is McEntee’s special adviser focusing on policy. He was a special adviser twice before when Richard Bruton was minister for communications and environment, and then again when Bruton was minister for education. “His is a difficult role and one which has a lot of importance attached to it,” said a source familiar with Cluskey’s work. “Helen needed a policy-orientated person to help her put her best foot forward and Patrick fit the bill. He has to digest and communicate all of the many different justice memos and then liaise with TDs and the other Government parties and keep them up to date.” Cluskey has worked on smoothing over contentious issues such as the use of body-cams for gardaí and works to ensure McEntee is well briefed before Cabinet meetings and on legislative issues. Principal officer grade, salary €110,805

Advisers to Minister for Social Protection and Rural, and Community Development Heather Humphreys

Niall O’Connor

Niall O’Connor was a tenacious journalist at the Evening Herald and the Irish Independent for more than six years before he joined the ranks of political advisers during the Fine Gael-led minority government in 2018. The Wicklow native was initially an adviser to Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe. O’Connor co-authored a 2018 biography of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar along with Philip Ryan, who is now the Independent group’s political editor. He has been an adviser to Humphreys since the current Government was formed in 2020. Principal officer grade, salary €110,811

Pauric McPhillips

Pauric McPhillips is policy adviser to Humphreys across both her departments. A “below the radar” figure among advisers, he is described as “shrewd” with a “good political antenna”. The Monaghan man is said to be heavily involved in Social Protection initiatives such as pensions auto-enrolment and pay-related benefits as well as the “Our Rural Future” policy at Humphreys’ other department, rural development. He previously advised her while she was minister for culture and later minister for enterprise. Principal officer grade, salary €110,811

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman

Roderic O’Gorman GP Advisers: Eoin Wilson
Tom Sheppard

Tom Sheppard worked in a number of communications and public affairs roles before he was appointed as O’Gorman’s adviser for press and media relations. He worked for a decade in London; one job there was with an animal welfare charity. He was a communications co-ordinator at homelessness and addiction charity Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI). During his time at the charity, he was the point of contact for press releases raising concerns at the number of people living in emergency accommodation and mental health issues among homeless people. He spends much of time in his current role dealing with media queries around the asylum seeker and refugee accommodation crisis. Principal officer grade, salary €105,425

Eoin Wilson

Eoin Wilson advises O’Gorman on all policy matters in the wide-ranging brief, covering issues from refugee housing to childcare. He worked in party leader Eamon Ryan’s constituency office in the last two years of the 2007-2011 Fianna Fáil-Green Party government. He did a stint as Social Democrats co-founder Catherine Murphy’s parliamentary assistant between 2011 and 2016, a period when the Green Party held no Dáil seats. He became Green Party general secretary between 2016 and 2020 before taking the job as O’Gorman’s adviser. Principal officer grade, salary €103,358

Advisers to Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin

Juno McEnroe

Previously a political correspondent with The Irish Examiner, McEnroe left journalism to become a press adviser to Ms Martin in 2020. He also worked as a journalist for The Sunday Times, Ireland on Sunday and as a radio news reader for Independent Network News. Principal Officer grade, salary €103,358

Meghan McSweeney

Following the departure of Tanya Warren to the State’s new media regulator Coimisiún na Meán, Meghan McSweeney took up the role of policy adviser to the minister in November 2023. She previously worked as an employment solicitor with Mason Hayes & Curran law firm as well as a researcher with the Law Reform Commission of Ireland. Principal Officer, salary €98,665

Advisers to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien

Ciara Shaughnessy

As the press adviser for the Minister for Housing, Ciara Shaughnessy’s role involves fielding questions from the media, preparing the Minister for broadcast appearances and print interviews, and travelling with him to his public engagements.

Formerly of the Fianna Fáil press office, Shaughnessy is described by her colleagues as being clued-in and across her brief. A big part of her role involves proactively engaging with the media to explain sometimes complex housing plans and statistics. She works to ensure that O’Brien is well prepared for the large number of media appearances he makes as he tries to convince the public that the Government is making progress with the housing crisis. Principal officer grade, salary €103,358

Kevin Dillon

Kevin Dillon is effectively the main Government adviser when it comes to housing for Fianna Fáil and the rest of the Coalition. He is focus on policy and tasked with having a deep understanding of the different machinations of the Government’s various housing schemes and plans. One of the key things that the three party leaders want is for a change in the narrative around housing, and Dillon is tasked with finding ways to deliver the message that the ship is steadying. He was previously the head of the policy office in Fianna Fáil. Principal officer grade, salary €110,811

Advisers to Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris

Simon Harris FG Advisers: Sarah Bardon
Sarah Bardon

A former political journalist with The Irish Times, Sarah Bardon took up the role of special adviser with Mr Harris in 2018 when he held the health brief. She currently focuses more on the policy side of things for the Minister, but is involved with some national media campaigns. Bardon holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and was also previously political editor of The Irish Daily Mirror. Principal Officer grade, salary €110,811

Max Murphy

Appointed as a special adviser to Harris last June at the age of 26, Murphy is one of the youngest Government advisers. He previously worked as a parliamentary assistant for Fine Gael TDs Catherine Byrne and Neale Richmond, followed by a policy and research role in Fine Gael’s press office. Principal Officer grade, salary €97,207

Advisers to Ministers of State

Advisers to Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at Department of Health Hildegarde Naughton

Paul Melia

Formerly a journalist with The Irish Independent for 20 years, where he was environment editor, Mr Melia left journalism in February 2019 and became an adviser to then housing minister Eoghan Murphy. Following the general election, he switched to become an adviser to Naughton and is focused solely on policy matters. Principal Officer grade, salary €110,811

Denise Duffy

Denise Duffy was an assistant campaign manager for Brian Hayes when he stood for Fine Gael during the European elections in 2014. She also worked as a parliamentary assistant for Regina Doherty before being appointed a special adviser. Following the 2020 general election, she moved to work as an adviser to Naughton and handles all press and media matters. Principal Officer grade, salary €110,811

Advisers to Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett

Pippa Hackett GP Advisers: Jack O’Donnell
Jack O’Donnell

Jack O’Donnell has worked for several ministers across several governments and is regarded as a sure-handed media strategist. The Mayo native began as an assistant and adviser to Enda Kenny and then was Eoghan Murphy’s special adviser when he was minister for housing. After a stint with PR company Q4, he returned to Government in 2022 when becoming Hackett’s communications adviser. Principal Officer grade, salary €95,301

Declan O’Rourke

The most unusual family connection in Government is that O’Rourke and his mother, Caroline Murphy, are both special advisers; Murphy advises Helen McEntee on communications). One of a number of high-achieving children of former broadcaster Murphy and her husband, RTÉ broadcaster Seán O’Rourke, Declan has a degree in law and formerly worked as a solicitor with Dublin law firm McCann Fitzgerald. O’Rourke’s contribution in the Department is more on the policy side, with O’Donnell taking up the communications mantle. Principal Officer grade, salary €95,301

Adviser to Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Martin Heydon

Martin Heydon FG Advisers: Barry Cassidy
Barry Cassidy

Barry Cassidy is a former news correspondent at the Irish Farmer’s Journal where, for a time, he specialised in stories related to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. From a beef and sheep farm in Co Meath, he previously worked as a farm hand and has a degree in animal sciences at University College Dublin. His third-level education included studying dairy science at Cornell University in New York. He has been an adviser to Heydon since 2021. Assistant principal grade, salary €75,933.

Adviser to Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte

Anne Rabbitte FF Advisers: Noel Byrne
Noel Byrne

Byrne worked in the media – mostly as a newsreader for local and national radio – prior to 2018. He then went on to complete a MA in Public Affairs and Political Communications at Technological University Dublin. He also began working as a parliamentary assistant to Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte before changing role to become her special adviser when the Government was formed in 2020. He is married to well-known writer Stefanie Preissner. Assistant principle grade standard: €80,241

Adviser to Minister of State for Business Neale Richmond

Neale Richmond FG Advisers: Fiona Campbell
Fiona Campbell

Campbell is described by one source as “very young but very good” and a member of the next generation for Fine Gael. She worked in Richmond’s office during his Seanad term, and then as his parliamentary assistant after his election to the Dáil in 2020 before becoming his adviser. Campbell was tipped as a potential replacement for Fiach Kelly, formerly Helen McEntee’s adviser, but perhaps this came too soon for her. Assistant principal grade, salary €74,701

Adviser to Minister of State for European Affairs and Minister of State at the Department of Defence Peter Burke

Peter Burke FG Advisers: Laura Mannion
Laura Mannion

Laura Mannion, who worked as Burke’s PA for seven years, is seen as integral to his operation on the ground in his Longford-Westmeath constituency and “relentless” in ensuring any announcements for the constituency are appropriately signposted with credits for Burke. Similar to Fiona Campbell, she had been mentioned as a possible replacement for Fiach Kelly. Assistant principal grade, salary €73,236

Adviser to Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Sean Fleming

Eoin Delaney

One of the younger crop of Government advisers, Eoin Delaney looks after much of Fleming’s social media as well as keeping tabs on his media queries and engagements. One of his colleagues describes him as being “very much on the ground, out on the doors, involved with the grassroots side of politics”. Delaney keeps an eye on both local and national issues that crop up and also maintains contact with Laois Ógra Fianna Fáil in Fleming’s constituency. Assistant principal grade, salary €74,701

Adviser to Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan

Diane O’Gorman

Diane O’Gorman is different from most other advisers in that she is an established civil servant, and so is not viewed by the other advisers as being much of a political animal. She has spent more than 10 years working in the Department of Education covering higher education policy and also working as a Civil Service press officer. She also previously worked as a private secretary to Mary Mitchell O’Connor when she was minister of state in the Department of Education, managing her Cabinet and Dáil business. Assistant principal scale, €74,701 to €87,445

Adviser to Minister of State at the Department of Finance Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Jennifer Carroll MaCneil FG Advisers; Stephen Foley
Stephen Foley

Previously an adviser to junior minister Damien English, Stephen Foley was appointed to his current role in March 2023. It involves advising on policy and media matters. Assistant Principal Officer grade, salary €87,455

Adviser to Minister of State for Health (Mental Health and Older People) Mary Butler

Mary Butler FF Advisers: Corona Joyce
Corona Joyce

Corona Joyce’s career includes roles at Spirasi, an organisation that supports survivors of torture, and also the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration. She was a senior policy officer at Age Action, where she was no stranger to interactions with the world of politics. She appeared before an Oireachtas committee in 2018 to offer views on the State Pension and was listed as a media point of contact for Budget submissions and commentary from the organisation that advocates for older people. She worked for a year and a half in Fianna Fáil’s backroom team before taking the job with Butler. Assistant principal grade, salary €84,151

Adviser to Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan

Hannah Hamilton

Those who work with Hannah Hamilton, describe her as being “Green to the core”. She is across all of the most obvious but also most niche areas of Green Party policy. This spans policies on wildlife, biodiversity and climate change. She has held the role for three years. Before this, she worked with semi-State forestry company Coillte and was also an Irish Times columnist focusing on environmental science and sustainability. Assistant principal grade, salary €85,730

Adviser to Minister of State at the Office of Public Works & the Gaeltacht Patrick O’Donovan

Michael O’Connor

Formerly a parliamentary assistant to Tom Hayes, a Fine Gael TD, and to O’Donovan, Michael O’Connor became a special adviser in September 2020. He is the minister’s sole policy and press adviser. Assistant Principal Officer grade, salary €84,286

Adviser to Minister of State for Community Development Joe O’Brien

Joe O’Brien GP Advisers: Anne-Marie McNally
Anne-Marie McNally

McNally’s first job in politics was with then Independent TD Catherine Murphy in 2012. She was a founding member of the Social Democrats in 2015 and was the party’s then political communications director until 2020. McNally stepped away from politics briefly to work as executive director of the Housing Alliance, before becoming adviser to O’Brien in 2021. He became junior minister for integration in 2023, giving McNally a greater role in the migrant accommodation crisis, one of the thorniest challenges facing the Coalition. Colleagues believe her to be politically shrewd. Assistant principal grade, salary €85,730

Adviser to Minister of State for Sport Thomas Byrne

Thomas Byrne FF Advisers: Daniel Griffin
Daniel Griffin

Like Byrne, Griffin is a lawyer. He worked for McCann Fitzgerald for some six years, before being seconded to the Central Bank as a legal counsel for two years. He has been the adviser to Byrne for two years, first in European Affairs and now in Sport. Assistant Principal grade, salary €73,326

Advisers to Minister of State for Transport (International and Road Transport and Logistics) Jack Chambers

Sam Griffin

Sam Griffin was a “runner” in RTÉ while studying journalism at Dublin City University. He worked for more than two and a half years as a well-regarded news reporter for the Irish Independent before taking up a role as a parliamentary assistant to Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers during the 2016-2020 “Confidence and Supply” Government. Griffin, from north Dublin, was appointed as a special adviser to Chambers when the Fianna Fáil TD was named Government whip and junior sport minister at the start of the present Coalition in 2020. He continues to work as a special adviser in the Fianna Fáil TD’s current role as Minister of State for Transport. Principal officer grade, salary €107,006

Shane Smyth

Shane Smyth is a policy adviser to Chambers. He was a parliamentary assistant to Social Democrats co-founder and current Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly before Donnelly’s switch to Fianna Fáil. Smyth worked in Fianna Fáil’s research unit as a policy officer before taking up his current role. Principal officer grade, salary €103,358

Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education Niall Collins does not currently have a special adviser in place.