Minister has to decide board's fate

BOARD members of the Irish National Stud and chairwoman Chryss O’Reilly are in a battle to retain their prestigious positions.

A series of revelations about the running of the stud provoked scathing criticism from the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

Controversies have dripped out over a number of months and involved one High Court case this year.

After repeated requests for information, the INS failed to ease concerns. It released a long statement last night dealing specifically with the procurement issue.

Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith sought and received two recent assurances from Ms O’Reilly that the INS was being run properly. However, with the following issues lingering, Mr Smith has to decide soon if he can support the board or require a complete clear out.

In-house deals and conflicts of interest: The INS encouraged deals between it and its senior personnel, but these have not been fully reported.

An abridged response to a Freedom of Information request revealed a small amount of detail this week.

This raised even more questions and only dealt with the following untendered-for transactions over a decade:

€93,000 worth of Waterford Crystal, a company then controlled by Tony O’Reilly, husband of the chair.

€488,140 in professional fees from a firm run by company secretary John McStay.

€157,945 in training from director Dermot Weld.

It also revealed €73,187 was spent buying a two-bay Renault horsebox from a garage run by another director, Mick Leavy, in 2008.

In its annual accounts for 2008, the INS only reported to have engaged in €46,757 worth of deals with directors, of which €24,942 was spent on Mr Weld’s training.

There was no mention of the trade with Mr Leavy. Its statement last night suggested the garage only received a €2,000 profit from the sale.

Overall these figures appear separate from the picture painted in its annual accounts under Transactions Involving Related Parties.

In a seven-year period, the seven-member board sold €640,164 worth of services to the INS.

Despite the Freedom of Information request, the INS has not released a breakdown of these deals.

Separately, when it got investment in a record breaking stallion, Invincible Spirit, there was a bonanza for three senior figures. The INS was the controlling shareholder in the horse. But junior shareholders Ms O’Reilly, Mr McStay and director Trevor Stewart also earned €2.9m.

Mr McStay’s firm also advised the INS in an untendered contract worth €59,895.

Bullying and treatment of staff: Since 2004, the INS spent €705,000 defending legal actions taken by staff.

This figure does not include a recent High Court injunction taken by its nominations manager, Julie Lynch.

Ms Lynch had an affair with the former chief executive John Clarke, which ended with him bullying her.

The INS brought in former labour court chairman Finbarr Flood to report on the case. He found Ms Lynch had been bullied and the fallout had compromised the business of the INS.

Mr Clarke was allowed retire last year, with a €64,775.36 pay off, before any disciplinary action was taken.

Ms Lynch’s was the third High Court case taken against the company, which employs fewer than 50 people, where bullying was alleged.

In 2004, former farmer manager Pat Mullarkey received a settlement. The final bill cost the INS €364,000.

Four years later, gardener Andrew Lacey took a case which cost the INS €220,000.

Expenses and spending: The expenses bills for INS former chief executive John Clarke were described at the Public Accounts Committee as like “Fás on overdrive”.

No clarity has been given as to why Mr Clarke required €700,000 worth of luxury travel in eight years. At the same time €95,000 was paid for his wife, Monica, to accompany him.

Apart from the foreign travel, there was also his former residence on the grounds.

As recently as March, Minister Smith informed the Dáil of the Mr Clarke’s salary grades, €126,161 a year in 2008, but did not mention the accommodation perk.

In return for €133 a month, the Clarkes lived at Tully House and had their heating and lighting paid for.

And there were a number of extraordinary items paid for at the “assistant manager’s residence”.

The total cost over a decade, after Mr Clarke’s €4,525 contribution, was €129,775.

This included:

€22,258 for a patio, €3,424 for a rosewood table and footstool, €2,424 for a fireplace, €2,819 1.5 for a seater chair, €1,249 for a safe.

The INS said the role of chief executive required foreign travel.

So far only the expenses relating to Mr Clarke have been released and not the information on directors.

In one trip to Lexington, Kentucky, in 2003, Mr and Mrs Clarke’s flights cost €4,705.84 each.

An invoice, obtained separately, showed ex-director Pat O’Kelly also travelled for the same flight cost.

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