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Sunday 23 July 2017

Taoiseach defends Shatter in cronyism controversy

Fiach Kelly and Tom Brady

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny yesterday waded into the controversy over Alan Shatter's state appointments as details emerged of another Fine Gael-linked placement by the Justice Minister.

Mr Shatter this week appointed barrister Oliver Connolly, who donated €1,000 to his campaign in 2007, as a liaison for whistleblowers in An Garda Siochana, a part-time position that pays €12,500 a year.

And the minister also appointed chartered accountant Karen Dent to the prestigious and influential board responsible for recommending prospective judges to the Government.

Mr Kenny denied Mr Connolly's appointment was cronyism, but did not answer questions as to whether Mr Shatter should have disclosed his links to the barrister when announcing the appointment.

"Cronyism is the appointment of people who have neither competency or merit for jobs that they don't deserve," Mr Kenny told RTE's 'Six-One' news.

"In the case of Mr Connolly, clearly he is exceptionally qualified."

Ms Dent is a Fine Gael activist in Mr Shatter's Dublin South constituency and has canvassed for him for years.

She has a background in financial control, and her appointment to the unpaid position on the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board was announced last week by Mr Shatter, although the political connection between the pair was not highlighted.

The board is responsible for considering the suitability of individuals seeking appointment to judicial office.

The prestigious body is made up of the Chief Justice and the presidents of the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court, as well as the Attorney General, and representatives from the Bar Council and the Law Society.

Also appointed by Mr Shatter to the board were Dr Simon Boucher, of the Irish Management Institute, and Dr Valerie Bresnihan. Neither are understood to have Fine Gael connections.

The minister is allowed to appoint three people who have "knowledge or experience of commerce, finance, administration, or persons who have experience as consumers of the service provided by the courts".

The Department of Justice said Ms Dent has lectured in University College Dublin for more than 20 years. She was also the National Parents Council Post Primary representative on the Consultative Committee of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency from 2005 to 2009.

Ms Dent's husband, Ronnie Neville, is also a firm supporter of Mr Shatter and is due to contest a Fine Gael selection convention against Knocklyon-based Alan Gallagher to fill a vacant council seat.

Mr Shatter's spokeswoman last night said he "rejected the implication that because a person is a member of a political party he or she should be automatically excluded from any such appointment for which he or she has the expertise, qualifications and competence".

"What the minister has objected to in the past is the appointment of individuals to positions who lack the qualifications and competence for such positions and whose appointments solely derive from their membership of or support for a political party," the spokesperson said.

Mr Shatter also dismissed claims of political cronyism and said the allegations were "complete and utter nonsense".

Asked if he had been compromised by the fact that he had been trained as a mediator by Mr Connolly's firm, Friary Law, Mr Shatter said: "Mr Connolly is a very eminent and well -qualified individual to act as recipient to a garda whistleblower.

"He is appointed for one reason, and one reason only, his competence and expertise."

He said Mr Connolly's Friary Law mediation service had been nominated as the number one service to be used under the multi-unit development bill, by the then Justice Minister Brendan Smith, on behalf of the Fianna Fail government.

Irish Independent

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