Saturday 18 January 2020

Central Bank staying quiet on spouse trips

Institution refuses to confirm or deny allegation that their former governor took his wife on taxpayer-funded junkets


The Central Bank has refused to confirm or deny if the former governor of the Central Bank, John Hurley, was accompanied by his wife when he went on a taxpayer-funded trip to a symposium in the Rocky mountain ski resort of Jackson Hole.

Mr Hurley, who has now retired, attended the gathering of central bankers and economists in Wyoming, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, just as the credit crunch was gripping world economies.

The Jackson Hole symposium, an annual event, is attended by the heavy-hitters of global economics, including former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan.

The Central Bank also declined to answer whether the former governor was accompanied by his wife to Cape Town in South Africa in 2007, when he attended a meeting of central bank chiefs, jointly hosted by the South African Reserve Bank and the Bank for International Settlements.

Trips made by senior officials of the Central Bank of Ireland, especially those overseas visits where they were accompanied by their spouses, will be examined by the Dail Public Accounts Committee.

Last Thursday, the new governor of the Central Bank Patrick Honohan announced that he was cancelling travel by spouses at taxpayers' expense, following the disclosure that spouses of bank employees had gone on 71 trips between 2007 and 2009.

But the Central Bank has declined to answer specific questions on a number of foreign trips undertaken by its most senior officials or whether the former governor was accompanied by his wife on any of his international trips in 2007 or 2008.

These included bi-annual informal ECOFIN meetings in 2007 and 2008.

The governor or the director general of the Central Bank routinely attend the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Washington and the IMF spring meetings.

The 2007 annual report of the Central Bank also revealed that Mr Hurley participated in a seminar between the Eurosystem (the European Central Bank and the central banks of member states in the eurozone) and the central banks of western and central Africa held in Paris.

A spokeswoman for the bank also declined to confirm or deny if Mr Hurley was accompanied on this trip by his spouse.

In the same year, the director general of the Central Bank, Tony Grimes, attended a seminar in Moscow, organised by the Bank of Russia.

The Sunday Independent has learned that the Central Bank did not have to receive ministerial approval for trips by spouses, which other state agencies now have to obtain under strict new guidelines.

Last August, the Department of Finance issued tough regulations in response to public anger over revelations of five-star hotels and business-class flights enjoyed by politicians of all parties and senior state officials.

The crackdown followed revelations about Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue's overseas expenses and the FAS scandal.

The new policy means that that first-class travel should not be used "as a general rule" and that hotels of "extravagant" standards should be abandoned in favour of three-star or four-star accommodation. There is also a ban on paying the travel bills for people who have no official role, including spouses, friends or advisors -- unless ministers state that it is in the public interest that they attend.

But a spokesman for the Department of Finance told the Sunday Independent: "The Central Bank is an autonomous body and does not have to seek approval from the Minister for Finance in relation to foreign travel. It is up to the governor."

In his statement on Thursday, Mr Honohan said he had been informed that, in the period 2007 to 2009, the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland had paid for the travel of accompanying spouses to business meetings on 71 occasions.

The total cost of this was €67,450. Of these trips, 62 were within Europe with an average cost of €435.

The other nine trips were long-haul in business class and accordingly dearer.

The average cost of long distance business-class flights was €4,515.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News