Sunday 21 January 2018

Ex-Coillte boss Gunning brings lawsuit over exit at semi-state

Row: David Gunning
Row: David Gunning
Nick Webb

Nick Webb

Former Coillte chief executive David Gunning has launched a lawsuit over the terms of his exit from the semi-state forestry firm.

He served as CEO of Coillte from 2006 until last March, when he left the company. It is understood that he believes he is still owed money by Coillte. Gunning had earlier been at the centre of a political row over high levels of pay at semi-state firms.

Gunning was one of the highest-paid semi-state bosses, earning up to €489,000 in one year at the State forestry and energy group. The 2012 annual report for Coillte shows he earned €372,000 for the year.

"I won't be making any comment at this time. This matter is being handled by my solicitors," he said. Court records show that the case kicked off on October 30. Gunning is represented by Daniel Spring Solicitors, with Arthur Cox handling the defence for Coillte. "No comment on legal proceedings," according to a Coillte spokesman.

The economic crisis saw pay cuts introduced across the public sector with so-called 'fat-cat' semi-state bosses targeted by the new Government. A 15 per cent voluntary pay cut was sought. It later emerged Gunning had not taken the voluntary pay cut, leading to a bitter row between Coillte and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in November 2011.

In a speech, Mr Kenny said he was "disappointed" not all semi-state chief executives had volunteered cuts. Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said, "I think it's regrettable that Coillte is the odd one out. I hope he'll comply and I would expect him to."

Coillte later announced that Gunning would take the voluntary pay cut. The semi-state said that he hadn't refused to take the pay cut but that "no decision had previously been made on the matter, which has been under consideration for some time".

Last April it emerged that Coillte chairman Brendan McKenna, had written to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, warning that the semi-state would struggle to find top candidates to replace Gunning as a cap of €191,000 had been introduced at Coillte. He claimed performance-related pay – or bonuses – were a "critical component" in attracting top executives.

Gunning was one of a number of semi-state bosses who exited the sector following a major clampdown on pay and bonuses of public servants. A cap of €250,000 was introduced as part of the Troika-enforced austerity regime.

ESB chief executive Padraig McManus, who earned a staggering €752,000 in remuneration in 2009, left the company at the end of 2011 after nine years at the helm. He has since become chairman of Eircom, as well as joining the board of IPO-bound Mincon.

Bord Gais boss John Mullins stepped down in December 2012, following two pay cuts.

He had served as CEO for five years, earning up to €399,000 in 2010. Mullins has moved into consultancy and has set up a renewable energy fund.

Dublin Airport Authority chief Declan Collier bagged as much as €698,000 at the peak of his earnings in 2007.

Sunday Independent

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