FG defends appointment of party man to board

AGRICULTURE Minister Simon Coveney has defended the appointment of a Fine Gael strategist as the chair of the country’s greyhound racing body, Bord na gCon.

Mr Coveney said the businessman Phil Meaney was chosen because of his record as a successful businessman and not because of his stewardship of Fine Gael’s electoral tactics in Carlow.

Mr Meaney was the chair of Kilkenny greyhound stadium and sat on the finance committee of the Irish Coursing Club.

The minister said he was contacted by people from various political hues who supported Mr Meaney’s candidacy and Fine Gael connections were not a factor.

Mr Coveney was granted a special Cabinet exemption to appoint Mr Meaney in a hurry because there were worries that the post needed to be filled urgently. “There has been a vacancy in Bord na gCon for quite some time and I was concerned there was a vacuum in terms of leadership,” he said.

The minister said the threat of friction in the organisation meant Bord na gCon would not have benefited if he waited for a new Seanad to be elected and the position subjected to committee scrutiny.

However, Fianna Fáil’s Public Sector Reform spokesman, Michael McGrath, said the move “smacked of double standards” after promises of greater transparency.

“Fine Gael was very quick to criticise the outgoing government for appointments it made in its dying days, which I criticised as well. I had hoped we would see a new departure in the area of state board appointments but the appointment of Mr Meaney in this way appears to run contrary to what Fine Gael has been saying all along.”

Mr Meaney will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Dick O’Sullivan.

The minister said this was a once-off departure from the Government’s commitment to reform the selection of appointees to state boards. Mr Coveney said the new chair agreed his appointment was conditional on confirmation by an Oireachtas Committee.

Mr Meaney was the chair of Fine Gael’s electoral strategy group in Carlow. Its tactics were key to electing three TDs in the five-seat Carlow/Kilkenny constituency.

That seat went to new TD Pat Deering.

Mr Deering confirmed he had spoken to Mr Coveney to support Mr Meaney’s bid. He said the new Bord na gCon chairman was a Fine Gael man but that he had also headed up a successful business for 40 years and was deeply involved in the dog industry.

Mr Meaney could not be contacted before going to press.

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