Saturday 24 September 2016

Lowry's 'not bad looking' adviser leaves board

New appointments do not include Valerie O'Reilly

Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30

BOARD: Valerie O'Reilly, who says she is currently pursuing 'other directorship opportunities'
BOARD: Valerie O'Reilly, who says she is currently pursuing 'other directorship opportunities'

The "not bad looking" woman referred to by Independent TD Michael Lowry in a handwritten note to Taoiseach Enda Kenny has not sought to be reappointed to the board of the National Transport Authority, the Sunday Independent has learned.

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Mr Lowry came under fire in January after the Sunday Independent revealed how he passed a note to Mr Kenny in the Dail seeking to have his ex-press adviser, Valerie O'Reilly, reappointed to the NTA board.

Ms O'Reilly's term of office came to an end in March, and she had originally expressed a desire to continue to serve.

"The ratio of women involved in public institutions is a topical issue. I have been a diligent and effective member of the NTA board and would be willing to continue to make a contribution to its work. I made Michael Lowry, my local TD, amongst others, aware of this," she said at the time.

However, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has now made a number of new appointments to the board, and these do not include Ms O'Reilly.

Ms O'Reilly yesterday said she ultimately decided not to reapply for her board seat to pursue other directorships and to concentrate on her PR firm, Unicorn.

She told the Sunday Independent: "While I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the board of the National Transport Authority, I decided not to reapply for the board position for another term.

"I have pursued other directorship opportunities which I was approached for in recent months. I am very pleased to continue to lend my unique business and communications experience to both private and public boards. I place great value on limiting the spread of my commitments to such appointments, and my primary focus is on my business."

It is understood Ms O'Reilly and Unicorn PR intend to work with Mr Lowry on his forthcoming General Election campaign.

The Sunday Independent has learned that NTA chairman John Fitzgerald did not give a recommendation for Ms O'Reilly to Mr Donohoe.

Under the new rules governing appointments to State boards, a minister can reappoint a board member only on the recommendation of the chairman.

Ms O'Reilly did not submit herself to go through the public appointments system.

According to the NTA, Mr Donohoe has made four appointments to the board since taking over as minister.

Dublin City Manager Owen Keegan is among the four people appointed to its board. The others are planning experts Linda Saunders, Dr Berna Grist and transport official Hugh Creegan.

Speaking after the controversy, Mr Donohoe said the physical appearance of a candidate for a position on a State board would be "the last thing" he would consider.

"The last thing I would be considering in relation to the appointment of a man or a woman is how they look. What matters in roles like is the competence of the person, the experience of the person and the commitment they have, and they are the only considerations I would ever use or dream of using," he said at the time.

Mr Lowry did not respond to queries from the Sunday Independent yesterday.

However, the Tipperary North TD previously defended his actions in seeking to have Ms O'Reilly reappointed.

Mr Lowry accepted the comment in his handwritten note was "unnecessary", but insisted it was "light-hearted".

He said Ms O'Reilly had asked him to convey a message to Government that she was willing to continue as a member of the NTA board.

"Having made enquiries as to how she had performed I was advised that she was an excellent board member. I was told that she was diligent and effective and overall had made a valuable contribution to the business of the board," he said.

"I wrote a note to the Taoiseach, which was hand-delivered while he was seated in the Taoiseach's chair on Government benches. It is not unusual for members of the Dail to pass notes to ministers or other members."

Mr Lowry said he had "requested him [Mr Kenny] to consider her reappointment", adding: "It wasn't a conditional request. It wasn't a demand. It was a mere reference."

The former Fine Gael minister, who resigned in disgrace in 1996, said he rejected any accusations of cronyism.

"Unicorn PR has never worked for me on a voluntary basis. All work conducted on behalf of my political organisation has been paid for and conducted on a commercial and professional basis," he said. "My comment about Ms O'Reilly's appearance was an unnecessary, light-hearted comment."

Mr Lowry, who continues to top polls in his constituency, said many of his supporters are "women of all ages".

"These women support me because they know that I treat women with courtesy and respect.

"I don't see what the fuss is about, requesting the Taoiseach to consider for appointment a women with all the necessary qualifications," the Independent TD said at the time.

Sunday Independent

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