Is Mitchell O’Connor worth it, Leo?
And I mean the gaffes – not the €16k pay hike
Mary Mitchell O’Connor seemed totally unaware that she was lighting the fuse to another Government crisis when she chided the Taoiseach about equal pay last week.
Her response when she was asked why she is paid €16,000 a year less than the other two ‘super’ junior ministers who sit at Cabinet was almost certainly unwitting and not malicious.
Her ‘everyone who does the same job deserves the same pay’ stance also breached collective Government responsibility on equal pay for teachers. But it was probably just another silly mistake by an accident-prone minister.
It also raises a serious question: will Leo Varadkar give Mitchell O’Connor another fool’s pardon?
Her latest gaffe threatens the Budget calculations, portends industrial action in schools and promises more chaos in Government Buildings.
It is also further evidence that Mitchell O’Connor was demoted on merit – on how she performed, or rather didn’t, as Minister for Jobs and Enterprise. But when the Taoiseach told her she was being demoted, she kicked up such a fuss that he granted her another meeting that delayed his announcement to the Dáil of his ministers. r Varadkar clearly didn’t know that she would not be entitled to the statutory €16,000-a-year pay rise when the face-saving deal saw her appointed as a super junior minister. It would take a special Act of the Oireachtas to increase her salary – and Fianna Fáil would kill the Bill.
Still, Ms Mitchell O’Connor seemed content to forego the money and take the position for its status, perks and privileges. But her apparently unwitting remarks last week emboldened the teachers’ unions and Fianna Fáil exploited the Taoiseach’s predicament.
Yet Ms Mitchell O’Connor became an overnight heroine among her former teacher colleagues and an icon for equal pay – while still serving in a government.
She knows that newly qualified teachers only have to remain on the lower pay rates for around two years before joining the incremental upwardly sliding pay scale.
And she should know that during public pay talks earlier this year Paschal Donohoe offered to fix the anomaly: it will cost €209million a year but established teachers would need to sacrifice their pay rises to find the money.
Teachers clearly want to help their newly qualified colleagues but not as much as they want their own pay rises restored.
Last week, the teachers’ unions were quoting Mitchell O’Connor’s plea for equal pay and her words encouraged another junior minister to call for equal pay for teachers.
‘She’s actually a victim of sexism in the workplace,’ said Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne.
‘Why is she the one that had to take the zero pay when the men are getting the full pay?’
But she actually volunteered to forego wages to gain status, perks and privileges. Clearly Mitchell O’Connor and the Taoiseach see her appointment as the L’Oreal option – because she’s worth it!