Friday 13 December 2019

Angry doctors launch campaign to oust union head and probe finances

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

MOVES are afoot to remove the leadership of the troubled Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) as the row over the €10m pension package of former chief executive George McNeice continues to rage.

A group of members are collecting signatures to force an EGM at which they will seek to remove interim chief executive Niall Saul and seize control of an independent investigation into financial and management activities of the union over the past 12 years.

It is the latest twist in the row threatening to tear apart Ireland's biggest doctors' union, with 5,000 members.

The move comes amid revelations that current and former presidents of the IMO, including Health Minister James Reilly, received packages of €105,000 a year for the part-time role.


Details of the payments have further fuelled anger surrounding the package secured by Mr McNeice, who was on a salary of nearly €500,000, unbeknown to members.

The move to convene an EGM, which must be held 21 days after the presentation of signatures, is being led by Dublin GP Dr Cathal O Suilliobhain.

He told fellow doctors the controversy over the departure of Mr McNeice had done "untold damage" to the union at a time when many livelihoods were under threat and that "we desperately need effective" union membership.

He added: "It is essential that we, the members, restore confidence in the IMO as a functioning union without delay."

Mr Saul, who was recently appointed interim chief executive, is executive chairman of Symbio Business Solutions, a firm involved in management and human-resources consultancy.

Mr Saul told the Irish Independent he did not believe there was any conflict of interest in the fact that he worked on a consultancy basis on different projects in the IMO and his appointment as interim chief executive.

He said his contracts and those of his company were approved by the IMO management committee and included a restructuring of the union's industrial-relations unit.

"Last year I was involved in assessing the liability of the IMO in relation to Mr McNeice's contract and negotiating it down," he added.

His current role is to look at how the union could be better run, look after its day-to-day operations and look for a new permanent chief executive.

He had been asked for an informal opinion on the chief executive's remuneration package in 2003 and had advised against a defined-benefit pension scheme, but this opinion was not acted on.


A spokesman for the IMO said Mr Saul, a former board member of FAS, worked for the union on a consultancy basis for several years and was on a retainer of €60,000.

"He worked with the IMO management committee in 2012 to reduce the negotiated settlement with Mr McNeice from a potential €25m to almost €10m.

"He has a lot of insight into the organisation and has the trust and respect of the executive committee."

He said an external audit of the union's finances and management since the 2003 pay and defined benefit deal for Mr McNeice was negotiated was already signalled by current IMO president, Dr Paul McKeown, after a meeting in Mullingar last Saturday.

Dr Reilly, as a working GP, was on the 2003 committee, but the deal was negotiated by late GP Dr Cormac Macnamara.

In a letter to members earlier this week, Dr McKeown said doctors are facing serious challenges and there is a need for the body to organise itself in defence of its members.

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