Coveney denies any wrongdoing in IGB chair appointment

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney - IGB appointment was not 'fast-tracked'

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said there was nothing untoward about his appointment of a Fine Gael strategist as a semi-state company chairman hours before new rules on such selections were introduced.

Mr Coveney said he asked for special Cabinet sanction to install a new chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board in 2011.

He said at the time that he made it clear to his fellow ministers that the nominee would still have to be interviewed by an Oireachtas committee.

Two and a half years later, this vetting hearing has not happened, despite rules on such procedures being introduced less than 24 hours after Mr Coveney filled the €22,000-a-year post.

Mr Coveney said the lack of a vetting hearing was not an indication that there was anything amiss, but rather that the committee had been too busy to organise a date.

“We have nothing to hide on this issue,” he said.

“Genuinely, if there are issues that need to be uncovered and if there are questions that need to be answered, we will answer them.”

Phil Meaney, an election organiser for Environment Minister Phil Hogan, was announced as chairman of the IGB on April 11, 2011.

The next day, the Government took the decision to ensure all chairmen of semi-state bodies are vetted by Oireachtas committees before their nominations could be formalised.

Mr Coveney said the impending new procedure did not motivate him to fast-track the IGB appointment.

“[April 11, 2011] was when this decision was announced, but I had made the decision to appoint Phil Meaney well before that,” said Mr Coveney.

“And actually, when his appointment was ratified by Cabinet, I made it very clear that Phil [Meaney] would be asked to go before the Oireachtas committee, and he has been available to go before the Oireachtas committee for hearing linked to his chairmanship. There is nothing untoward about that.”

On April 13, 2011, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was asked by Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin to account for the selection of a party stalwart.

That morning, Mr Kenny said Mr Coveney had wanted to make the appointment sooner, but had been stopped until the new vetting system was in place.

“The minister was anxious to make an appointment to Bord na gCon a few weeks ago but we did not allow that to happen because we wanted the process to be in place,” said Mr Kenny.

The Taoiseach assured the Dáil that, in the interests of “openness and transparency”, Mr Meaney would have to go before the committee.

A statement released last week by the Department of the Taoiseach to Phoenix magazine confirmed that the vetting procedures were not formalised until April 12, and not 24 hours earlier when Mr Meaney’s new role was announced.

Since April 2011, Mr Meaney has not appeared before the Oireachtas. Late last year, Mr Coveney appointed new chairs to Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish National Stud. Both were vetted by the Oireachtas agriculture committee within weeks.

Mr Coveney said he has recently written to the chair of the Agriculture committee, Andrew Doyle, to ask for time to made available to vet Mr Meaney.


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