The board of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) is to be grilled by an Oireachtas Committee on the reappointment of the body’s CEO on a salary that breaches pay restrictions.
HRI has defended the reappointment of its chief executive Brian Kavanagh, which is in breach of limits on pay and time served.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, who along with Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, signed off on the posting, has also defended his role in the controversial re-appointment.
It is understood the board of HRI did not discuss Mr Kavanagh’s reappointment before it was referred to the Government for approval.
Mr Creed told the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, that he was satisfied with the appointment, but admitted there had been “an issue with the sequencing of events”. He said the board had not had a discussion about the reappointment of the CEO before chairman Joe Keeling had contacted the two ministers for their approval.
“I would have preferred if the sequencing of events was different and I think the chairman of HRI acknowledges that as well,” Mr Creed told the committee.
However, Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokesman Martin Kenny said the minister’s response “shifted all responsibility for this very irregular appointment to the board of Horse Racing Ireland”.
Under government guidelines, CEOs of semi-state bodies are only allowed serve a single seven-year term, but Mr Kavanagh has now been appointed for a third term. Mr Kavanagh currently earns close to €191,000, despite the specified salary range for a commercial State body being €25,000 lower than this.
Fianna Fáil’s agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the appointment of a CEO for a third term was “unprecedented”.
He pointed out that when Mr Kavanagh was reappointed in 2009, after his first term, he had to reapply for the job and was interviewed.
“However, when it came to the unprecedented approval by Ministers Creed and Donohoe in the past couple of months to approve him for a third time, the job was not advertised and he was not required to apply for it,” Mr McConalogue told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, as he questioned the “appropriateness” of the Government’s decision to sanction a third term.
The Agriculture Committee is to call HRI in to answer questions, with chairperson Pat Deering saying: “While acknowledging the CEO’s significant expertise, committee members expressed concern about the manner in which this reappointment was handled, and the disquiet it has caused in relation to a possible breach of government guidelines. Consequently, we will be writing to Horse Racing Ireland requesting that the chairman and board members come before the committee in order to further clarify the sequence of events.”
In a statement, HRI said the board had given their chairman permission to “advance outstanding matters regarding the resolution of the CEO’s contract and any related matters”.
They also said the chairman’s actions reflected the views of the board regarding the CEO’s contract.
“It also recognised that a more collegiate approach would have improved the process, but were fully agreed that there was no intention to incorrectly inform the minister or that the board’s views had been misrepresented.”
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