News Gerard O'Regan

Sunday 21 September 2014

HSE must shoulder much of the blame for having no one on charity's board

Gerard O'Regan

Published 23/01/2014 | 02:30

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Paul Kiely (left) the former chief executive of the Dublin based Central Remedial Clinic and acting chief executive Jim Nugent (right) leaving Leinster House after giving evidence to The Public Accounts Committee. PRESS ASSOCIATION
Paul Kiely (left) the former chief executive of the Dublin based Central Remedial Clinic and acting chief executive Jim Nugent (right) leaving Leinster House after giving evidence to The Public Accounts Committee. PRESS ASSOCIATION

There's just the faintest whiff of a witchhunt going on – as the baying wolves scent blood and gather round for another easy kill. The Public Accounts Committee has on occasions done the State some service by flushing out wasteful spending of taxpayers' money.

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But when they adopt the role of judge, jury and very public executioner, and politicians from various parties vie with one another for the latest headline or soundbite, it's difficult not to feel just a little queasy. That collective sense of certainty, as they hog the moral high ground, can be a bit much to take.

Amid all the many words generated by the Central Remedial Clinic debacle, a few home truths have been lost in the near-hysteria and self-righteousness, which has stifled a proper analysis of the facts.

The most crucial point of all is that if Paul Kiely was forced out of his job as chief executive, he would be entitled to compensation in line with legal and industrial relations norms.

If he was unhappy with the offer made by his employer, he would have the option of bringing his case for compensation to an unfair dismissals tribunal. He would also have the option of suing the CRC in the courts.

Given the fact that his total income, including the infamous top-up payment, was so large, any potential pay-off would have to be in proportion to his high earnings and, whatever the circumstances, would be substantial. One way or another, the CRC was in a bind if they were determined to get him out of his job.

The bottom line is that he had legal entitlements as regards pay and pension. Yet the entire probe has been conducted as if the matter was a simple 'either/or' situation.

This has masked the reality that the real culprits in all of this are the HSE, the Department of Health, the Health Minister, this Government, and the last government.

They have all been complicit over the years in orchestrating a culture of so-called top-ups and bonuses, with little or no accountability or controls.

Back in 2008, the then Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack asked none other a body than the Public Accounts Committee why Brendan Drumm, the head of the HSE at the time, was receiving an €80,000 bonus on top of an already very generous salary? He also condemned the fact that €1.4m in bonuses was to be paid to 100 top executives on salaries in excess of €200,000.

And in a very relevant comment, made about Mary Harney and now applicable to her successor James Reilly, he concluded: "The buck stops with the minister. She should stop this or resign.''

At that time there were lots of goodies to go round and, provided everybody got their cut, it was a case of hear no evil, see no evil.

But now that money is in short supply, the minister, his department, and the HSE, are finding it near impossible, even with the mainstream hospitals, to halt the gravy train. We have seen a less than candid approach by some of the big names in Irish medicine – particularly those who straddle the grey area between the public and private sectors – when quizzed on their pay and perks.

How many other charity organisations apart from the CRC – operating in this twilight zone between public and private – have ad hoc arrangements in place where employees have enjoyed the best of both worlds?

The HSE should have been monitoring much more effectively organisations that are being funded to a greater or lesser extent with taxpayers' money. How come it had no representative on the CRC board? Why did it not insist on getting copies of board meeting minutes?

At this point the PAC should hand over the inquiry to the HSE. It and other relevant state institutions, including the gardai, would then be charged with making a report to Dr Reilly and the Dail.

What happened with the CRC now seems glaringly obvious. A Fianna Fail old boy network saw it as a kind of personal fiefdom, and greed and stroke-pulling ran riot. Salary top-ups and over-generous pension arrangements were if necessary paid for with money meant for children and adults with severe physical disabilities. When it came to discussing all this with the PAC, the CRC management fudged and hedged their bets.

Fortunate were they for whom the gods had provided such unlikely largesse. It kind of harks back to a time when a well-known politician – to whom some at CRC were closely linked – was asked how come he had come across a lot of money in unlikely circumstances.

He assured us he had won it on the horses. It was a bit like that for some of the CRC boys. While the gravy train lasted – they too were on a sure-fire winner.

Irish Independent

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