Expenses ‘sensible and practical’

The expenses regime operated by the Irish National Stud was fully defended at the time by its chairman, writes investigative correspondent Conor Ryan

IN SEPT 2009, with her semi-state company crying out for more cash, the chairman of the Irish National Stud was asked to explain its expenses regime to then agriculture minister Brendan Smith.

Its chairman, Chryss O’Reilly, was responding to newspaper reports on the arrangements agreed for its then chief executive John Clarke.

The company had already cond-ucted an audit of the regime. This examined why and how Mr Clarke accounted for 60% of the companies expenses bill. But its findings were not mentioned in the chairman’s letter.

Mr Clarke had just announced his retirement. That summer he had been threatened with disciplinary action because of his treatment of a senior member of staff with whom he had an affair with a year earlier.

However, this was a month when the country was gripped by expenses scandals, particularly one where then ceann comhairle John O’Donoghue was forced to resign. It was in this context Ms O’Reilly sought to set out why the seemingly excessive expenses for Mr Clarke were justified.

* An audit found flights and chauffeur services associated with Mr Clarke came to €21,713 in 2008 but Ms O’Reilly said:

“John has the use of a company-supplied car as part of his agreed remuneration, but on occasions when attending major industry events or when travelling abroad, a driver is used. I think this is sensible as it allows John the opportunity to participate in such events with no waste of time.

* The company paid a €1,800 bill for two days with a chauffeur in the US. Ms O’Reilly said:

“The use of the driver service in the US… was a practical necessity as John had no familiarity with Chicago, but I accept with hindsight the costs of the service, which was booked via an Irish agent, was somewhat excessive as can all costs associated with major sporting events in the US.

“When John arrived in Chicago he did not, as I mentioned, know the city so the driver was used to take him to do the necessary licensing paperwork. On the following day, the driver took John to the races and then to the airport for his return flight that evening.”

* In addition to flights, and €46,900 spent on hotels and meals for the chief executive in 2008, there were additional taxi costs. Ms O’Reilly said these were necessary:

“Normally, John hires a rental car at the airport when travelling overseas and he has driven himself in trips to buy horses in the UK, all sales in the UK, Kentucky, Deauville, Paris, Milan, and Rome. There are, however, some places where he is unfamiliar... and logic suggests he should not undertake the driving.”

nIn one case, the company paid €5,016 on flights to Hong Kong. But Ms O’Reilly said it could not ask him to travel on anything other than business class:

“John has never travelled first class at the cost of the INS. John has used business class for the majority of his travel.

“I accept that in the current public climate many articulate the view that this is unacceptable. The board, however, does not regard it as being in the best interest of the INS for the chief executive to undertake long-haul flights and then be expected to work at his best without having some degree of comfort while travelling.”

* Mr Clarke’s wife had her flights paid for when travelling with him. In one case the company paid €1,497 for flights to Italy for him, his wife, and the senior staff member with whom he had an affair. However, Ms O’Reilly said this policy was one of her best decisions during her tenure as chairman:

1. “On occasions… Mrs Clarke alone used the same [chauffeur] service when travelling to meet John.

2. “John does not hesitate to travel when necessary. The travel includes his wife from time to time as approved. That, if I may say so, was one of my better decisions as chairman. This is an international business and in this context we must regard ourselves as an international company.”

*Read more here

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