Tuesday 20 February 2018

Six weeks to sort out his finances – and save his ministerial career

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

John Perry has got six weeks to sort out his finances – and his politics. The Small Business Minister was given six weeks by a judge yesterday to come up with alternative ways to pay off his €2.5m debt to a bank.

But the Fine Gael TD also has the same period to save his ministerial career.

The political prognosis for the minister isn't too promising.

The timing of the court ruling against him is fortuitous as the Dail has just finished up for the Summer. Nonetheless, it is embarrassing for the Government to have its Small Business Minister facing judgment for unpaid debts.

Perry's case differs from the 'Stubbs Gazette' listing against Dr James Reilly, as the Health Minister was always able to argue he was caught up in a consortium which was involved in a complicated legal wrangle.

The debt which belongs to Perry's and his wife, Marie, is a much more prosaic affair.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will not want this matter hanging over his Fine Gael parliamentary party gathering in Laois in mid-September.

In the run up to the Seanad referendum and Budget 2014, he also doesn't need the distraction of facing questions about the financial affairs of a low profile junior minister.

Richard Bruton's status as the senior minister in Perry's department means he will also be hounded with queries as he attempts to run Fine Gael's Seanad campaign.

Perry is a Kenny loyalist and friend who backed the Fine Gael leader during the infamous heave of June 2010. His reward came with a post-heave promotion to the frontbench.

Last night, there were mixed signals over Kenny's level of knowledge about Perry's financial woes. There were suggestions he was given reassurances from his junior minister that his financial affairs were capable of resolution through the refinancing of loans.

If he didn't know Perry was heading towards a court judgment because of his inability to pay his debts, he should have.

It's not as if there haven't been warnings. Last summer, Perry settled an action over the alleged failure to pay a €1.3m debt relating to the lease of a hotel. And another report of a debt settlement subsequently emerged. Electricity provider, Airtricity, refused to provide details of their dealings with the minister as it would only confirm his "accounts with the company are fully settled and up to date".

At the time, Kenny stood by Perry – his latest minister to be embroiled in legal proceedings.

He said the minister had "settled whatever the problem was" before it went to court – but he has not spoken to the minister about the matter.

Kenny declined to say if he would be asking Perry to make a full statement. "As I understand it, that matter was dealt with before the court and has been satisfactorily resolved between the personalities involved," he said.

But matters have now worsened. Although colleagues are sympathetic towards his cause, Perry's political judgement can't be deferred inevitably this time around.

Irish Independent

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