Thursday 23 November 2017

Union bosses control access to the corridors of power

Secretary-general's diary reveals ICTU officials met with top civil servant 12 times in two months, writes Nick Webb

Ireland's top civil servant Dermot McCarthy, the secretary-general of the Department of the Taoiseach, met with ICTU boss David Begg, Jack O'Connor, Peter McLoone and other top trade union chiefs more than 60 times between January 2008 and November 2010. This was double the number of meetings scheduled with business and employers' group IBEC.

The extraordinary levels of access by trade union officials to the country's top civil servant are revealed in Mr McCarthy's appointments diary between January 2008 to the end of 2010, which were released to the Sunday Independent under the Freedom of Information Act.

In just a two-month period, from mid-April to mid-June 2009, Mr Begg, Mr McLoone and other ICTU officials were pencilled in for 12 meetings with Mr McCarthy. Employers' body IBEC was scheduled for just two meetings over the same period.

The close relations between trade union bosses and those in the corridors of power at the head of the Government and civil service may come under threat in the coming months.

With the Exchequer facing a massive deficit, Enda Kenny's Government is going to have to get tough on public sector pay and work conditions. The Croke Park Agreement to modernise the public sector has been utterly ineffective with minimal progress being made. The IMF has indicated that Ireland will miss its deficit reduction targets, which puts the public sector back into the crosshairs.

Outside of the trade union leaders, Mr McCarthy's diaries reveal the insiders who have access to the establishment's most powerful mandarin.

The bankers met with Mr McCarthy -- but on their own turf. His diary includes reference to a meeting with Bank of Ireland's Brian Goggin and Denis Donovan at the bank's HQ on Baggot Street in April 2008. This was followed by a dinner at Bank of Scotland on April 3, 2008.

Hapless former Financial Regulator Patrick Neary was scheduled to meet with Mr McCarthy on November 11, 2008 -- shortly after the disastrous bank guarantee was introduced, and three weeks before the Sean FitzPatrick loans scandal blew up. Former Irish Life & Permanent chief David Went also visited the department in July 2009. Anglo Irish Bank chairman Alan Dukes was due to hobnob with Mr McCarthy in June of that year.

With the sale of state assets on the cards, Mr McCarthy's diary also reveals meetings with one potential purchaser. In June 2010, he and the then- Taoiseach Brian Cowen met with Hutchison Port Company -- part of Hutchison Whampoa, the vast conglomerate owned by one of Asia's richest men, Li Ka-shing. Recently, the Sunday Independent revealed the company had approached the Government expressing an interest in buying state infrastructure assets such as the ports or energy assets.

The multinationals, ranging from Microsoft's Paul Rellis, HP's Martin Murphy, IBM's Peter O'Neill and Google also arranged face time with the country's top civil servant.

The country's biggest retailer Tesco also lobbied Mr McCarthy, with his diary noting a meeting "with Tesco and Joe Lennon" at the beginning of March 2009.

Cement hulk CRH was a visitor, with executives meeting Mr McCarthy and Mr Cowen in December 2008. CRH chairman Kieran McGowan also met with Mr McCarthy later. Building giant Sisk's Tom Costello was also scheduled to attend the get- together, according to Mr McCarthy's diary.

Eircom was another regular visitor, with chairman Ned Sullivan meeting Mr McCarthy in June 2010, October 2009 and April 2009.

With its Corrib gas project continuing to cause controversy, top suits from Shell met with Mr McCarthy; John Gallagher (European vice-president) and other players and lobbyists stated their case in May 2008.

The McCarthy diaries record scheduled meetings with former O2 chief Danuta Gray; Merrion capital's John Conroy; NCB Stockbrokers' Conor O'Kelly; Enda O'Coineen, the "unsinkable entrepreneur" and private equity baron; Ron Bolger, chairman of Larry Goodman's Irish Food processors; former Hibernian Insurance head Stuart Purdy; ACT Venture Capital's Niall Carroll and State Street's Willie Slattery.

Mr McCarthy is to step down shortly -- a few months early -- as the Government plans sweeping changes in the top ranks of the civil service. However, three of the highest positions are to be filled by insiders.

Sunday Indo Business

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