Shane Coleman

Friday 11 July 2014

TDs stunned by truly shocking testimony but there's a sense of more to come

Shane Coleman

Published 17/01/2014|02:30

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16/01/2014 Brian Conlan, Former CEO CRC arrives for a Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Brian Conlan, Former CEO CRC arrives for a Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

IF the Central Remedial Clinic thought things couldn't get any worse after the pre-Christmas revelations about top-ups to executive salaries, it was horribly mistaken.

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Before yesterday, the CRC brand was badly damaged in the public mind. After an extraordinary three and-a-half hours in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), its reputation was shattered, surely beyond repair.

To paraphrase Neil Kinnock, CRC was shown up to be rotten "not only to the core, but from the core".

And that's hugely unfortunate because there are excellent services offered by many dedicated CRC personnel. What has emerged is no reflection on them.

It's important to stress that those services will not change. The clinic's bricks and mortar and the human resources, providing physio, hydrotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and many other wonderful facilities, won't be altered.

But the 'CRC' sign over the door can hardly survive. That acronym, like FAS before it, has been sullied beyond repair. The word 'scandal' is overused in the political lexicon. But it certainly applies in the case of CRC.

There is always a concern with Oireachtas committees that members will engage in showboating to secure their slots on the evening news.

But the extraordinary language used by TDs yesterday to describe the goings-on at CRC was utterly justified. "An affront to decent people", a "slush fund" for top management, "feathering the nest", "shameful" were just some of the terms used.

It was impossible to argue with any of them. So wretched was the performance by the former CEO and board member Brian Conlan that at times it was difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.

Those who depend on the services of the clinic and those who have made donations will presumably be in little doubt on that one.

Rarely in the long history of Dail committees can a witness's bona fides have been so widely questioned. On a number of occasions, visibly stunned deputies highlighted clear and embarrassing contradictions in his evidence. The accusation that he was being "economical with the truth or the facts" was by no means the harshest language used. Conlan insisted throughout that he was "telling the truth".

The TDs ridiculed his continued assertion that despite being a board member and Paul Kiely's successor as chief executive, he was unaware of the extraordinary €750,000 retirement package secured by Kiely after he left his job last June.

It seems that the only discordant note sounded about Kiely's retirement package was from one board member who was reluctant to vote for it "because she did not want Paul Kiely to leave".

The CRC's dysfunctional corporate governance was further underlined by the disclosure that Conlan, as a director, was himself present last year when the board discussed his recruitment as chief executive.

However shocking yesterday's evidence was -- and it was genuinely shocking -- the sense is that there is more to come.

There are likely to be calls for further detail on the extensive travel apparently taken by one senior CRC manager, which was highlighted by Shane Ross at the end of proceedings.

The interim administrator, John Cregan, who was put in by the HSE after the board of the CRC had resigned, is also working his way through a mound of paperwork. Already, his investigation has thrown up Kiely's sweetheart deal. It will hardly end there.

Cregan didn't mince his words in correspondence with the HSE. He said Paul Kiely's arrangements were "considerably at variance from the understanding the PAC may have gained" from evidence previously given by Kiely and other CRC board representatives.

Shane Ross put it more baldly: "This committee was misled, certainly misled by omission."

Cregan also warned that the payments to Kiely may be in breach of the CRC's memorandum of association. If that is the case, "steps will require to be taken to make good that loss," he said.

The wider question is whether CRC is an isolated case or a reflection of a sense of entitlement that existed in certain sections of Irish life. However, much we might hope that CRC is unique in this regard, it's difficult to believe that it is.

SHANE COLEMAN IS POLITICAL EDITOR OF NEWSTALK 106-108FM

Irish Independent

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