The Dáil has passed laws to increase remuneration for a third 'super junior' minister who will now be entitled to an allowance of €16,000 for sitting at Cabinet, on top of the €124,000 salary for serving as Minister of State.

The allowance was described as "obscene" and "nauseating" by the opposition during angry Dáil exchanges.

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty said a staff nurse would have to work every day from January up until last Friday in order to get the €16,000 earnings boost to the super junior ministers.

Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers, who is chief whip, Fine Gael's Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State for Roads, and Green Party Senator Pippa Hackett, a junior minister in the Department of Agriculture, will now be eligible for the allowance.

Under earlier legislation only two junior ministers were entitled to the allowance. However, the new coalition will have three junior ministers at Cabinet. 

"I think it's obscene, I think it is wrong, I think the pay of TDs of Senators, of office holders should actually be cut, not increased. If ever there was a time, in the middle of a pandemic, this is the time to be taking decreases not increases in pay," Mr Doherty said.

His party colleague David Cullinane asked: "Who would have thought that the most oppressed section of our society in terms of pay were three junior ministers? It beggars belief that the Government would bring forward this proposal."

Responding, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said there was "a real stench of hypocrisy" in what Sinn Féin was saying.

"Of course Sinn Féin ministers in Northern Ireland accepted a pay increase in April, during the height of the pandemic, your pay went up. I presume Sinn Féin ministers will be marching in to Stormont on Monday and rushing through legislation to reduce the pay of ministers," he said.

He said Sinn Féin MLAs, "when they didn't turn up for work" from January 2017 to October 2019, claimed €4.7 million "in a closed parliament".

Minister Harris said the legislation was required to establish a new Government department and as part of that, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has asked that all those at Cabinet can draw down the same allowances.

"This is about ensuring that the situation enables the Government to allow anyone who is entitled to the allowance already, on the virtue of attending Cabinet as a minister of state, draw down that allowance, that is what this is about."

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the allowance is "an indication of how out of touch the Government is with the mood in the country".

"It is a real slap in the face for people who have had a really hard time over the last five months, people who have lost their livelihoods, their incomes and in some case their homes being in danger. It is a slap in the face for the business community who are struggling to survive," she said.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it is "absolutely nothing short of nauseating that the Government would consider it okay to increase the already staggeringly high salaries of super junior ministers from €124,0000 a year to an additional €16,000".

He asked: "How can you possibly justify that when there were nurses who were infected with Covid-19 on the frontline who didn't even get sick pay?"

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the payment of the allowance is "totally wrong" and it "should be an honour for them to attend Cabinet".

"There is no doubt that we are all extremely well-paid in this house and that should be enough for any of us," he said.

The Ministers and Secretaries and Ministerial, Parliamentary, Judicial and Courts Offices (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed by 71 votes to 46 while an amendment to the legislation dealing specifically with the allowance was passed by 72 votes to 46.

View that ministers should be treated 'equally'

Earlier, a number of Government ministers defended plans to amend the legislation to allow the third junior minister with a seat at the Cabinet table to receive the allowance.

Two of the junior ministers who sit at Cabinet are already entitled to the payment.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said all three ministers of state who sit at Cabinet have the same level of responsibility, yet only two of them were legally able to receive the allowance.

He said in bringing forward the proposals, he had consulted the party leaders and said the general view across Government was that all three should be treated equally, and the plan was unanimously backed by Cabinet.

When it was pointed out to him that some Fianna Fáil politicians had opposed a similar move by the last Government, Mr McGrath said it was not brought before the Oireachtas the last time and he was not sure what was being referred to.

He added that the issue had certainly never been raised with him, was certainly not discussed, and to the best of his knowledge no proposal had ever been put before the Oireachtas.

He said he personally thinks it is fair that all three ministers of state sitting at Cabinet are treated equally.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said he also believes it is appropriate that the amendment being put forward is made and he supports it.

He said it was not the case that ministers of state sitting at Cabinet in the last Government were treated equally and the reason that was the case was because there were a variety of different opinions about the matter.

Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin said she also supports the amendment that would see all the ministers of state at Cabinet treated equally.

However, opposition politicians criticised the Government proposal to pay the allowance.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh said the proposal was "really repugnant" to hard-working people.

She added the additional sum was the same value as the average pay of an apprentice.

Ms Conway-Walsh said: "Surely €2,884 per week is enough for somebody to live on."

Labour Party TD Ged Nash said he did not see how a case could be made for the allowance at a time of "economic constraints".

RISE TD Paul Murphy described it as a "scandalous decision". 

He added that "it happens at a time when one in four people in this country are currently unemployed".

Additional reporting: Will Goodbody