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Sunday 22 October 2017

Revenue audits doctors' union over tax affairs

New setback for IMO following controversy over €9.75m pension package to former chief

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

THE Revenue Commissioners have launched an inquiry into the Irish Medical Organisation, amid growing controversy over its financial affairs.

Tax inspectors were dispatched to the Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin headquarters of the doctors' union less than a fortnight ago to audit the accounts. Their inquiries are expected to take several weeks, if not months.

The audit is another serious setback for the IMO, which has been plunged into crisis over the extraordinary €9.75m pension package given to its former chief executive, George McNeice.

A spokesman for the IMO said the Revenue wrote to the union a fortnight ago to inform it of the audit. He said the audit was now under way and that the IMO was "co-operating fully".

The tax audit is likely to examine all aspects of the IMO's accounts.

Payments made to officials and its former presidents may also fall within the scope of the audit. The role of IMO president was widely believed to be voluntary and unpaid but it emerged earlier this year that some former presidents were paid six-figure sums.

Among them is Health Minister Dr James Reilly, who was paid €114,000 when he was president of the IMO in 2004. The money was paid by an IMO-related company to a company owned by Dr Reilly and was referred to in the accounts as a "consultancy fee". There were also a number of payments of around €100,000 to other former presidents.

Dr Reilly was also a member of the IMO's remuneration committee when Mr McNeice's pension deal was struck in 2003.

Mr McNeice, 51, had originally negotiated a pension package worth €25m. When he announced he was retiring at Christmas, the IMO realised that his pension could bankrupt the union that represents 5,000 doctors.

It was eventually negotiated down to €9.75m, including a €1.5m lump sum, a pension pot of €4.5m and €3.75m to be paid over 16 years.

Claims of extravagant spending during Mr McNeice's 20-year tenure as chief executive have emerged since his departure. They include the use of private jets for foreign travel and of all-expenses-paid trips to the US to attend management courses at Harvard.

Many key figures claimed that they were unaware of Mr McNeice's pay and pension entitlements, including Dr Reilly – even though he was on the remuneration committee at the time.

The IMO was censured in the past over its expenditure of €2.3m in taxpayers' funds on a website called www.mygp.ie, which was designed to encourage doctors to prescribe cheaper drugs. A consultants' report raised concerns over how the money was spent and funding was stopped.

The website was discontinued in 2007 after concerns had been raised by the HSE.

The IMO later reached a confidential agreement with the HSE, which was governed by a confidentiality clause. The HSE told the Sunday Independent it could not release any information on its inquiries while the confidentiality clause is in place. The IMO has refused to lift it.

Dr Reilly is a past director of a company called MyGP, which is registered at the IMO's headquarters, along with George McNeice and other senior IMO officers.

The new president of the IMO, Dr Matt Sadlier, promised greater transparency in the organisation.

The IMO refused demands from members for an independent inquiry into the union's financial affairs and instead appointed an external auditor regularly used by the organisation.

Irish Independent

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