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Thursday 19 October 2017

Gallery boss got €40k top-up for weekly visits home to UK

The Public Accounts Committee heard the full cost of the €40,000 payment was actually €87,454 when tax liabilities were taken into account

Sean Rainbird: director of National Gallery received a €40,000 relocation allowance. Mark Condren
Sean Rainbird: director of National Gallery received a €40,000 relocation allowance. Mark Condren

Shane Phelan, Public Affairs Editor

THE National Gallery of Ireland has become the latest state-funded body to become embroiled in the salary top-up controversy as details emerged of a deal with its new director costing over €87,000.

The gallery told the Dail's spending watchdog a €40,000 "relocation allowance" payment made to Sean Rainbird on top of his salary was in fact made to allow the director travel home to London to visit his family at weekends.

The expense, which increased in cost to €87,454 when a tax liability was taken into account, was described by a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) member as "undoubtedly a top-up payment under another guise".

Details of the payment were thrashed out by the committee as Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged bodies who failed to disclose details of top-up payments would be "called in to account for their failure to respond".

CONTRACT

The PAC heard the National Gallery gave Mr Rainbird a cheque for €40,000 to cover the cost of travelling home at weekends. The once-off payment, made in April last year, was in addition to his annual salary of €99,236.

It was taken from non-state funding that it had available to it.

Gallery chairman Olive Braiden said the payment was to allow Mr Rainbird to travel to see his family in London 40 weekends a year at a cost of €200 per round trip over the five years of his contract.

It was part of a deal signed when Mr Rainbird agreed to move to Dublin from Stuttgart, where he had been the director of the Staatsgalerie for six years.

Ms Braiden said the gallery's board thought it was "fair and important" that Mr Rainbird be given the allowance as his family was not moving to Dublin with him.

"We consider it fair, and it is vouched. We have a process in place for vouching that," she said.

Ms Braiden said the board made the decision after taking advice "so a candidate from abroad would not be at a disadvantage".

She said: "It is working very well. We are very fortunate to have someone who is willing to make these trips over and back and do this important job for the people of Ireland."

However, under questioning, Ms Braiden admitted should Mr Rainbird not spend all of the money he received on travel, the gallery would not seek to recover what was left over.

"[But] if he overspends, he won't get any more," she said.

Mr Rainbird was appointed following an international search lasting 18 months.

Prior to his position in Stuttgart, he worked as a senior curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Tate Gallery in London from 1987 until 2006. Mr Rainbird told the committee he was visiting his family "probably 45 to 50 times a year".

He said the travel expenses involved were "roughly working out" at €200 per round trip.

Independent TD Shane Ross described the payment as "a top-up, in effect".

"It looks to me that this is undoubtedly a top-up payment under another guise," he said.

Ms Braiden denied this, insisting it was "a reasonable expense" to ensure that an overseas candidate would not be "worse off" during the five-year contract for the job.

The committee also heard the full cost of the €40,000 payment was actually €87,454 when tax liabilities were taken into account.

The gallery received advice on this from an accountancy practice and this bill has already been settled, the committee heard.

It covered this additional cost from its own resources and not from taxpayer funding.

Irish Independent

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