Taoiseach Enda Kenny has expressed full confidence in coalition partner Tanaiste Joan Burton, as the Labour leader faced Opposition claims of “cronyism” in appointing former trade union leader David Begg to a state board.
TDs last night debated a motion of no confidence in Ms Burton after she last week used a little-known clause in new public service appointment rules to give Mr Begg the €20,000-a year post as chairman of the pensions authority.
TDs called for an end to “political patronage” and questioned why Ms Burton, and other government ministers, had “by-passed” general appointment rules and given people positions with public bodies
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy noted how, in the dying days of the last Fianna Fáil-led government, that 60 state appointments were made. She warned that there should not be a similar “rush” to make such appointments in the coming weeks by the outgoing coalition ahead of the general election.
Independent TD Seamus Healy said the Begg appointment showed that “cronyism was alive and well at the heart of government”.
There had been a “known formula” for this coalition, where Fine Gael decided two thirds of state appointments while Labour decided the remaining third, claimed the Tipperary TD.
Deputy Healy criticised Mr Begg’s defence of the position on the pension authority, after the former ICTU general secretary told the Irish Examiner last week that the €20,000 annual pay was “not a crock of gold”.
Mr Healy pointed out that 125,000 people in Ireland earned less than that amount annually and that there were families of two adults and two children on welfare payments of less than that.
“How dare he suggest that €20,000 isn’t a crock of gold,” argued the TD.
Independent Waterford TD John Halligan claimed Mr Begg, when a member of the Central Bank board during the boom, had been in a position to allow the financial system as a whole to borrow huge amounts.
Ms Burton defended her appointment of Mr Begg and said that the opposition motion of no confidence in her was threadbare, flimsy and not substantial.
The Labour leader claimed that Independent Alliance leader Shane Ross, spearheading the motion, had a “personal vendetta” against trade unions as well as Mr Begg.
Furthermore, the Dublin-Rathdown TD had been a “boomer for bankers during the boom”, week after week as a journalist, argued Ms Burton.
Her decision to appoint Mr Begg was “not a get out clause or an aberration”, she told the Dáil, stressing that Mr Begg had huge experience and knowledge of pensions and boards.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil that he had “full confidence” in Ms Burton as well as her appointment of Begg.
The Fine Gael leader said he would not take lecturers from Mr Ross, who he accused of previously being a “cheerleader of Anglo Irish Bank” as a newspaper columnist.
Mr Begg has said that he never asked for the state board position. The debate continues this evening.
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