Wednesday 20 September 2017

HRI chairman 'gobsmacked' by board's appointment decision

HRI chairman Joe Keeling
HRI chairman Joe Keeling
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Horse Racing Ireland's chairman told the Department of Agriculture he would be "gobsmacked" if his fellow board members did not unanimously support the reappointment of its controversial CEO, just 24 hours before his colleagues raised concerns about the process.

Correspondence seen by the Sunday Independent shows HRI chairman Joe Keeling spoke with the Department of Agriculture's assistant secretary general the day before the board considered the CEO's position at a meeting.

Internal emails from the department show officials had been reassured the HRI board would vote to reappoint CEO Brian Kavanagh.

It is also apparent the officials knew that the board were unaware the appointment had been approved, despite Mr Keeling making representations on its behalf without its knowledge. The reappointment had already been approved by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe.

It had not been put to the HRI board.

Referring to parliamentary questions in the Dail about Mr Kavanagh's reappointment, Assistant Secretary General Brendan Gleeson wrote to two colleagues in the Department of Agriculture this July.

"I spoke to the [HRI] chairman this morning and he indicated that he would be 'gobsmacked' if a proposal to reappoint the CEO did not receive the unanimous support of the board," he said.

"I understand from the chairman that he wishes to put this to the board tomorrow, if we communicate with him formally on the matter."

The HRI board discussed the reappointment the following day and Mr Keeling was forced to apologise for his role in the matter. Board members said they were concerned about succession planning and the reappointment process.

Mr Kavanagh's reappointment was approved and carried by a majority of board members but it was not unanimous, despite Mr Keeling's previous claims that it would be agreed to by all members.

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture told the Sunday Independent that the internal emails refer to Mr Keeling's willingness to inform the board that both ministers had "formally consented to the CEO's reappointment".

Public Expenditure minister Paschal Donohoe had previously said he did not agree with the terms of Mr Kavanagh's contract before performing a U-turn and approving the reappointment.

Mr Kavanagh began an unprecedented third successive term as CEO last month, and is expected to waive his right to a contract of indefinite duration before leaving HRI in 2021. That will be his 20th year as CEO despite Government guidelines stating the CEO of a commercial state body can only serve one term of seven years.

He retained his €190,773 salary which is more than €26,000 above the specified range for his position.

Other documents seen by the Sunday Independent show the government had already changed statements as it attempted to manage media reports into the scandal. A statement from minister Donohoe in reply to a parliamentary question previously included the line: "I sanctioned the contract based on the strength of the business case presented and in line with current guidelines on the appointment of CEOs for commercial state bodies."

However, it was later removed from press releases after it was reported the reappointment breached government guidelines.

Sunday Independent

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