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Monday 24 April 2017

Varadkar jumps gun over how to fill state board jobs

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar jumped the gun on his colleagues yesterday by announcing details of his plans to publicly advertise vacant state board positions "in the coming weeks" -- before an official policy was agreed at cabinet.

It emerged that the Government has still not agreed on how to get rid of what Taoiseach Enda Kenny has called "blatant cronyism" in the appointment of up to 6,000 people to state boards.

The Government confirmed last night that Mr Varadkar was on his own when he announced details of his plans to advertise state board vacancies in his department "in the coming weeks" on the 'Today with Pat Kenny' show yesterday.

A spokesman said there were "wider issues" which had to be considered before a policy could be agreed. Public Expenditure and Reform Minster Brendan Howlin is preparing a memo for Government on the subject.

But Mr Varadkar said he would advertise vacancies in his department publicly and would then allow the relevant Oireachtas Committee to make recommendations on who to appoint. He confirmed the final decision would still be made by him as minister -- rather than an independent commission.

Accountable

"I would rather see decisions made in this country by people who are actually elected and people who are accountable to the public and can lose elections, rather than having an independent golden circle of people making all the decisions who are then accountable to no one," he said.

A government source said that Mr Varadkar was a "reforming minister" who had previously drafted his own bill on state board appointments and was "keen to get off the starting blocks".

Mr Varadkar has previously said there are around 6,000 positions on state boards, which a government source said last night would not be far off the mark. The fees for directors on state boards generally range from around €6,000 to €15,000, while the chairs usually get paid salaries of €9,000 to €30,000.

Fianna Fail Cork South Central TD Michael McGrath said he had doubted that Mr Varadkar was speaking for the Government when he announced his appointments plan.

"The Programme for Government is silent on the issue. I could find no reference, even though before the election Fine Gael had made it clear that all directors on state boards would resign and everybody would have to be vetted by the Public Appointments Service," he said.

Both Fine Gael and Labour promised during the election campaign to stop state boards being used as a way of "rewarding insiders".

And they provided details about how candidates for state boards would be vetted to ensure they were suitable.

There were indications last night that vetting might only apply to the appointment of state regulators and board chairs.

A government source said it could be very time-consuming to have Oireachtas committees vetting thousands of state board appointments.

Irish Independent

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