Former stud boss claimed 60% of staff travel expenses for 2008

THE former chief executive of the Irish National Stud (INS) John Clarke was responsible for 60% of staff travel expenses’ claims for the company in 2008.

An internal audit of the INS’s controversial expenses’ regime found the bulk of the company’s bills were generated by Mr Clarke and, to a lesser extent, its stallion nominations’ manager, Julie Lynch.

In many cases expenses were approved without necessary receipts or supporting details of the travel claim.

The travel bill included €1,404 on assorted shrubs and trees for Mr Clarke’s patio at his company-provided house at Tully House. These were bought at Johnston Garden Centre, but no receipt was supplied. Separate household expenses showed the INS paid €22,258 to build the patio at the chief executive’s house on the grounds of the INS.

The audit also discovered two business-class Air France tickets to Hong Kong, costing €2,501 each were approved without a receipt in October 2008.

The external accountancy firm, Kealy Mehigan, was commissioned in December 2008 to examine the expenses bill for the 43 full-time and 35 seasonal staff employed by the semi-state commercial company in 2008.

It found the nature of the work by Mr Clarke and Ms Lynch accounted for 75% of all claims.

The remainder of the expenses [€28,179] were largely rooted in mileage claims by other staff members travelling around the sprawling INS. The INS applied the wrong rate for part of the year with staff being underpaid compared with approved civil service levels, this was rectified but not backdated.

In an 11-month period Mr Clarke spent €46,927 on hotels and meals. Flights and car rental cost €21,713 and €8,150 was spent on withdrawing cash on his credit card and exchanging currencies.

After his company car was crashed the company paid €908 a month to hire a Volvo V70 for him.

All the expenses were signed and approved by the chairman of the INS’s board, Chryss O’Reilly. The company, and Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith, have said travel was a key part of Mr Clarke’s work and was important to the INS.

Ms Lynch claimed €14,644 over the same period with a further €5,289 on flights, car rental and parking.

The troubled relationship between Ms Lynch and Mr Clarke has already been the subject of a High Court case this year.

An affair between Ms Lynch and Mr Clarke began in September 2006, was interrupted 12-months later, and ended in April 2008.

A follow-up independent investigation subsequently found Mr Clarke bullied Ms Lynch when their relationship broke up and this affected the business of the INS.

In March the High Court heard the affair revived again briefly at the Ascot races in June 2008.

According to the audit this trip accounted for the largest expenses’ claim approved by the INS during 2008, with three hotel rooms for Mr Clarke, Ms Lynch and company director Pat O’Kelly costing €9,653 for six nights. Two five-day badges for the festival, for Mr Clarke and Ms O’Kelly, cost €838.

The INS party stayed at the five-star Pennyhill Park Hotel during the flagship race meeting.

The auditor’s report included a note which said there was no evidence of personal expenses in relation to spa treatments being charged to the company.

However, it said in the case of Mr Clarke there was insufficient back up documents for the 2008 claims.

“We vouched all statements to supporting receipts but these were not always present. Twenty three percent of expenses did not have supporting receipts and of the 77% which had receipts 32% did not have a detailed breakdown as a credit card slip was the receipt,” it said.

The auditors recommended the INS adopt a system of making sure all expenses are supported by proper receipts from the supplier.

And these should be attached to the credit card statements each month before they are signed off.

The auditors also said the board should require its travelling staff to keep diaries.

It said Mr Clarke and Ms Lynch, when asked, provided a list of engagements which corresponded with most expenses.

“We recommend that a diary is kept detailing date, destination and purpose of trips which is attached monthly to credit card statements and checked by person approving expenses,” it said.

Mr Clarke retired as chief executive earlier this year. Ms Lynch took out an injunction against the company in March to prevent it from restricting her work on the grounds of ill health.

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