Quinn urges probe of Charlie’s reign

OFFICIALS in the Department of Finance were “completely undermined” in relation to spending decisions when Charlie McCreevy was minister, according to his predecessor in the portfolio.

Labour’s Ruairí Quinn, who was minister for finance from 1994 to 1997, said aspects of Mr McCreevy’s term in that office should be investigated as part of an independent review into the Department of Finance announced this week.

He said Mr McCreevy “knew everything” and “rode over” decisions by his officials, particularly in relation to the granting of €14 million for an equestrian events centre at Punchestown Racecourse in his constituency.

Mr Quinn also said that “morale within the Department” was low during the former Fianna Fáil minister’s reign from 1997 to 2004.

The attitude of Bertie Ahern that there was “one long party” meant decisions by finance officials were undermined.

“That authority they had, in terms of controlling expenditure and getting value for money and making sure that procedures were adhered to, all that was completely undermined during Bertie Ahern’s period, along with Charlie McCreevy.”

He was responding to Tuesday’s announcement by current minister Brian Lenihan that a wide-ranging review of the Department and its management of the financial crisis will be carried out by independent experts.

The review will “evaluate the systems, structures and processes used by the Department of Finance in providing advice to the minister and the Government” and will be carried out separately from the commission of inquiry into the banking crisis.

One of the problems, according to Mr Quinn, was the “cosy” tradition of a secretary general of the department becoming the governor of the Central Bank.

That tradition was broken when Mr Lenihan appointed Patrick Honohan to the position last year.

Eddie Molloy, a management consultant who is strongly critical of the Department believes the report “will reveal the consequences of a poorly staffed department”.

According to table of qualifications from the Department’s capacity review, there are just three people working in banking and finance with masters level qualifications, just two with masters in economic policy analysis, and just one person with a masters in industrial relations.

Mr Molloy said the promised review could be covered in a “veil of secrecy”, because officials are not allowed to discuss advice given to ministers under law.

“I don’t know what provisions will be made to release them from that.”

He said there are three possibilities.

“One is that they were giving good advice and it was rejected; secondly the advice was very poor; thirdly they were giving what they might call advice to support a prior political decision.”

More in this section