Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister, has got permission to break public appointment rules in order to keep the chief executive of the Irish Greyhound Board in situ for another two years.
The decision represents a significant U-turn by Mr Coveney on what his department considered was one of his notable achievements for “the minister’s first year in office”.
Adrian Neilan, the chief executive of the IGB, will continue in his post for two years after his current contract expires on Dec 31 if he accepts a reduced salary and the removal of a car allowance.
Sanction for the post was conveyed to Mr Coveney on behalf of Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin on Wednesday after a year of speculation in the industry that the move would happen.
It comes just two years after Mr Coveney and the department stood down the IGB and insisted it deliver a signed contract in which Mr Neilan agreed to the standard contract conditions. These included a contentious condition that prevents semi-state CEOs from working for the organisation once their terms run out.
The clause in the contract states: “Nothing in the contract shall allow the chief executive to retain his position after the expiry of seven years from the date of the first appointment and he shall not be appointed to any other position, within the company or subsidiary thereof, after the expiry of the contract.”
Mr Coveney sought, and was given, permission to set this aside in Mr Neilan’s case.
During his first six months as minister, Mr Coveney’s department had been at odds with the IGB and Horse Racing Ireland over standard contract clauses. It was one of the issues which meant Mr Neilan worked without a signed contract after his appointment in 2007 until he agreed to sign a back-dated document in Sept 2011.
On the evening that he signed the contract on the standard terms, Mr Coveney sent a one-line email to his secretary general saying: “One down, one to go!”
It is understood Mr Neilan has been offered the new deal but his €160,000 salary will be reduced so that he does not benefit from the increments due for his seven years of service.
He has also lost his car allowance. It has been removed for commercial semi-state chiefs executive.
In a statement, the department confirmed Mr Coveney had got sanction.
“Following a request from the chairman of IGB [Phil Meaney] on behalf of the board of IGB for a two-year extension to the term of office of the CEO of IGB, the minister of agriculture, food, and the marine has, following the consent of the minister for public expenditure and reform, acceded to the request subject to a number of conditions relating to pay and other matters in accordance with government policy,” it said.
The IGB said it “will not be making any comment to the Irish Examiner”.
Mr Coveney has recently defended his involvement with the board and his appointment of its chairman hours before new vetting rules came into place to allow greater public scrutiny of semi-state board nominees.
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