Friday 19 July 2019

Dublin Port axes plan to host global shipping celebration

World port body fears getting "embroiled in slipstream" of expenses row

Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Fearghal O'Connor

Dublin Port has pulled out of hosting a major international port sector event next May following recent Sunday Independent revelations about credit card spending by management on travel, hotels and entertainment.

Dublin was to host the annual general meeting and five-day-long 50th anniversary celebration of the worldwide Global Stevedoring Council (GSC) in Dublin next May.

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The organisation is made up of senior executives from ports around the world. But, according to a memo sent by GSC to its membership and seen by the Sunday Independent, Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly has instead decided to relinquish his year-long GSC presidency and not host the event.

In a separate statement to this newspaper, Dublin Port blamed the challenges of Brexit for its decision to abandon plans to host the event.

But in the GSC memo dated four days after the Sunday Independent first revealed details of credit card spending at the semi-state port, GSC secretary Bruno Valkeniers wrote to GSC members: "Monday I received a message from our president Eamonn O'Reilly that he and Dublin Port Company have become embroiled in a political row about expenditure on events, travel and suchlike."

There have been calls by politicians for Dublin Port to explain its expenses spending patterns before an Oireachtas committee.

The port has said it will engage accountancy firm Mazars to audit historic expenses. It also said it had hired forensic computer analysts to identify those it claimed had leaked sensitive data.

"All this is now under scrutiny of the press and politicians," Valkeniers said. "This might go on for some time. In these circumstances he does not find it appropriate to organise such important events like the AGM and GSC's 50th anniversary next year."

GSC officers had been in "constant communication with Eamonn and each other and, together with the GSC vice-presidents, we feel the same way.

"The GSC can not afford to get embroiled in the slipstream or to have a badly organised event because our host has other headaches or concerns," he wrote.

The organisation had therefore decided to cancel the May 10 to 14, 2020 events in Dublin, said the memo.

GSC was doing its "utmost to work out an attractive alternative location and host" for the AGM and 50th anniversary celebration.

When contacted, Dublin Port Company said in a statement that it "is preparing for major development works and the Company is therefore keeping focus on what matters most, especially taking account of the challenges of Brexit in the coming year."

"We have decided not to proceed with the AGM in Dublin in 2020, notwithstanding that there would have been no significant company expenditure involved as it is funded by the General Stevedoring Council," said the statement.

"It is hopefully something that we will consider again in years to come," it continued.

Earlier this month, this newspaper reported that O'Reilly used his credit card to spend almost €95,000 on expenses in 2018.

Four executives at the port company - including O'Reilly - spent close to €270,000 between them in 2018.

Regular foreign trips - often using business class travel and luxury hotels - were made, including some to events organised by GSC, such as last year's AGM in Vancouver.

Tens of thousands of euro was also spent on Dublin Port credit cards held by senior managers on business entertainment in a number of Dublin pubs and restaurants.

"Life is full of disruptions and challenges, also life within the GSC family, also with regard to our GSC's 50th AGM and anniversary!" wrote Valkeniers in his memo. "Talks are going on with another GSC member company to 'take over' the presidency of the GSC and host the 2020 events and we hope to come back to you with more news in the week(s) to come," said the memo.

"I am sure you will all join us in thanking Eamonn for his commitment towards our association and in wishing him all the luck in these difficult times," wrote Valkeniers.

Sunday Indo Business

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