Tuesday 16 January 2018

Ex-minister's firm gets €12m in fees from old department

Ex-Agri minister Joe Walsh on board of SWS

JOE WALSH: Served twice as Minister for Agriculture
JOE WALSH: Served twice as Minister for Agriculture
Nick Webb

Nick Webb

The Department of Agriculture has paid a company associated with former Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh close to €11m in fees since January 2012.

Cork outsourcing firm SWS, where former Fianna Fail TD Walsh serves as a director, has won a number of lucrative contracts from the department.

"In accordance with the terms of these contracts, payments to South Western in respect of services provided since January 1, 2012, to date amount to €10.95m," according to the Department of Agriculture.

Mr Walsh served as Minister for Agriculture from 1997 to 2004 in Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail-led government. He had earlier served in the same portfolio for Albert Reynolds' government between 1992 and 1994. Mr Walsh stepped down from the Dail at the 2007 election. He was at the helm when the foot-and- mouth outbreak hit Ireland in 2001, with his stewardship of the agriculture sector widely praised during those difficult times.

Company records show that Mr Walsh joined the board of SWS in November 2010. The firm is "a market leader in the provision of front- and back-office services to leading public and private sector clients in Ireland, the UK and Europe", according to its website. SWS has also worked with other State bodies, including Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, the Injuries Board, Sustainable Energy Ireland and the HSE.

The Department of Agriculture has awarded the firm a major contract to monitor the pig industry. "In 2011, South Western Services were also awarded the tender for the handling, processing and verification of pig movement notifications made by pig-herd owners, pig dealers, agents, other keepers and processors," according to a statement from the department.

"Any State contracts which the company has been awarded have been awarded on the basis of competitive public tenders," the department has said.

"South Western Services currently holds contracts, following public procurement competitions, for the provision of bovine birth registrations and passport issue and the processing of notifications in relation to farm-to-farm bovine movements and on farm bovine death notifications," according to the Department of Agriculture.

Between 2000 and 2003, while Mr Walsh was minister, SWS earned €12,916,063 from the Department of Agriculture. The company has earned close to €60m from the department in the past 13 years.

"All contracts with the Department of Agriculture are won through competitive tender and re-tendered every two to three years," according to an SWS spokesman. "Joe Walsh retired as Minister for Agriculture in 2004 but only joined the board of South Western in 2011, so there never was a conflict of interest."

Mr Walsh has had close links with SWS for a number of years, with the group headquartered in his former constituency. In October 2003, he launched an €8m biomass joint venture between SWS and Grainger Sawmills. In 2006, Mr Walsh launched a €60m Kerry wind farm for the company.

Since leaving politics, Mr Walsh has picked up some high-profile directorships. He is one of the public interest directors at Bank of Ireland, having been appointed by the late Brian Lenihan in 2009. Since taking the role, he has earned fees of about €327,000 representing the State's interest on the board of the bank.

Sunday Independent

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