Thursday 22 February 2018

Merger of vintners' groups collapses over CEO package

Donall O’Keeffe: was lined up to head the new merged body. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Donall O’Keeffe: was lined up to head the new merged body. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The proposed merger of the country's two publicans' groups has collapsed amid concerns over the salary of the new body's chief executive.

Months of negotiations between the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) and the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) broke down in recent days.

It had been expected that an amalgamated body would be in place by the middle of this year, with LVA boss Donall O'Keeffe identified as CEO designate.

Such a body would have unified representation for Dublin pubs, for which the LVA currently acts, and rural pubs, which are represented by the VFI, for the first time in over three decades.

However, sources said the VFI got cold feet when its representatives failed to get answers about Mr O'Keeffe's salary.

There has been considerable speculation about the pay package, but it has never been publicly disclosed. Sources close to the LVA have said it is in the region of €200,000, but others in the industry have suggested it could be up to €300,000.

Accounts for the LVA do not list the salary, but show that the organisation's five staff shared almost €490,000 in wages and pension payments in 2014.

In a joint statement to the Irish Independent, the LVA and VFI confirmed that the councils of both organisations had suspended the merger process.

"A number of complex issues have arisen, which include issues of a legal and technical nature," the statement said.

Sources within the VFI camp said Mr O'Keeffe's remuneration was raised in the aftermath of the pay controversy which rocked the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) last November.

"Clarity was sought in relation to the pay issue, but it was never disclosed for confidentiality reasons," said one source with knowledge of the talks.

"What brought it to a head was the IFA situation. People started asking questions, but they weren't being answered to the satisfaction of the VFI."

The VFI's national executive council met last week and decided to withdraw from the process.

However, one industry source said the LVA had already decided to pull the plug on the merger before then.

The source said both sides reached an agreement on salaries as far back as last August.

This was said to have involved independent experts "to ensure market rates were being paid and that things were done in an objective manner".

The source said that the VFI "attempted to row back on the agreement at a late stage" and wanted pay to be re-examined.

This caused the LVA to lose confidence in the merger process, the source said.

While the merger is now dead in the water, both bodies have agreed to continue working together on issues affecting publicans.

Irish Independent

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