Labour TD criticises Joan Burton in 'cronyism' row: 'Why set a rule and then break it?'

Labour TD criticises Joan Burton in 'cronyism' row: 'Why set a rule and then break it?'
David Begg and Joan Burton.

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter

A backbench Labour TD has heavily criticised her own party leader's decision to give a high-profile union activist a State board job without following public appointment rules, saying: "Why set a rule and then break it?".

Waterford-based Ciara Conway hit out at Tánaiste Joan Burton for naming ex-Irish Congress of Trade Union secretary general David Begg as the new chair of the national pensions authority, amid growing Opposition claims the move amounts to pre-election cronyism.

Under plans rubber-stamped at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, which is one of the last to take place before the Dáil is dissolved, Government agreed to appoint Mr Begg to the five-year role which comes with a total €100,000-plus pay packet.

The move took place after the former ICTU chief - who retired from the union last March and is already on a number of State boards - was put forward for the position by Ms Burton.

Despite the fact State board appointments must go through clearly stated transparency application processes to ensure people are given positions on merit, Mr Begg's role did not go through this process.

A spokesperson for Ms Burton explained during a post-Cabinet briefing on Wednesday evening that this is allowed when the chosen applicant is considered to be clearly able to do the job, and that the existing rules are "flexible" to allow for such decisions.

However, despite the position being taken by her party leader, speaking on RTE Radio's Today With Sean O Rourke programme Waterford-based TD Ciara Conway said Ms Burton was wrong to side-step the public appointments transparency policy.

"Why have the rules in place if you're not going to abide by them," the Government backbencher asked.

Ciara Conway
Ciara Conway

"There's no doubt that he's [David Begg] a very good person, he'd be excellent at it, but why not go through the procedures? I don't understand that, even as someone in Government, even as somebody in my own party.

"Why set a rule and then break it? There is a procedure there and if people are interested they should fill out the form like everybody else," she said.

While Labour insist nothing untoward has taken place, the decision to appoint Mr Begg in the final weeks before the general election has led to opposition claims Government is attempting to give State jobs to individuals closely associated with the coalition parties in a throwback to the alleged cronyism culture of the Celtic Tiger era.

Dara Calleary (right) said Mr Begg's appointment is like 'bestowing a Labour party favour'.
Dara Calleary (right) said Mr Begg's appointment is like "bestowing a Labour party favour".

Despite his own party being consistently questioned over alleged cronyism during its time in office, Fianna Fáil jobs spokesperson Dara Calleary said the appointment is akin to "bestowing a Labour party favour" on a closely-linked activist and that "there should have been an open competition given its [the position's] importance".

Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris simply said "cronyism is alive and well with Labour in Government", while prominent Independent Alliance member Shane Ross noted: "what does he know about pensions? How many State gigs has the bearded brother now got?"

Mr Begg is a former non-executive board member of Aer Lingus, member of the National Economic and Social Council and ex-board member of both the Central Bank and children's charity Barnardos.

Speaking on his retirement as secretary general of the ICTU last March, Ms Burton described him a "committed and relentlessly hard working servant for the Labour movement".


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