Monday 23 April 2018

EU probes Bruton's role as IFSC czar

Sarah Collins and Laura Noonan

FORMER Taoiseach John Bruton's role as the face of IFSC Ireland is being probed by the European Commission, the Irish Independent has learned.

Officials in Brussels last night confirmed that the Commission was examining the appointment because Mr Bruton had not asked Europe for permission to take the job.

Having worked as the EC's ambassador to Washington until September 2009, Mr Bruton is required to get approval from Brussels for any new roles until September 2011.

The IFSC czar last night confirmed the probe but said he had been "completely unaware" about the requirement to disclose new roles until he was contacted by the EU in December.

"I posted documents to the commission from the post office in Dunboyne on December 20, they're saying they didn't get them so I've sent them again," he said.

Sources in Brussels confirmed Mr Bruton's correspondence had been received on January 24 and was now being "examined" by the Commission's human resources division.

The Commission is looking into Mr Bruton's appointment to IFSC Ireland last May, where he's charged with "promoting Ireland as a location of choice for international financial services".

Brussels is also examining Mr Bruton's role as a senior adviser to consultancy Cabinet DN, a post Mr Bruton says he accepted because it allows him to be chair of the EU Sports Forum (which Cabinet DN sponsors).

"I've been very careful to avoid any conflict of interest," Mr Bruton said. "I didn't really have any sensitive information -- I was essentially a PR man for Europe in the US.

"I've also told the Commission that if they want to impose some restrictions on how I do anything I'll accept that."

Labour MEP Nessa Childers said that while the delay was most likely an "oversight" on Mr Bruton's part, it shows up the Commission's unwillingness to police the activities of its former top brass.

"As EU ambassador to the US from 2004-09, John Bruton was one of the most senior Commission officials, but he seems to have been unaware of the staff regulations," she said.

"This incident again reveals the deficiencies in the Barroso Commission's attitudes to transparency."

Former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy became the first casualty of an EU ethics ruling last year when he stepped down from his post at British firm NBNK investments after he was told it conflicted with his five-year tenure as EU financial services commissioner.

At the time he was also raking in a generous severance package from Brussels which is paid out to ex-commissioners for up to three years as long as their earnings remain below their former salary.

However, Mr Bruton's position is somewhat different as ambassadors are on a lower grade than commissioners.

His case is being handled by the Commission's human resources department while Mr McCreevy's was probed by the ethics committee and signed off by the sitting EU commissioners.

A Commission spokesman said: "You shouldn't assume there is a problem -- this is a normal procedure. Every single case of an ex-official taking up a new job has to be notified to us."

A decision will be made in the next 30 days. Even if Mr Bruton is given the go-ahead to continue in his post, he could be restricted by certain conditions.

Petra Erler, an official that worked for ex-industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen, was told this week that she can't do business with her old department in her new capacity as head of a Potsdam-based lobby group.

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