Tuesday 16 January 2018

Davis and husband in storm over PR contract

Couple reject conflict of interest claim

Presidential candidate Mary Davis and her husband Julian at a presidential election youth forum at the Royal College of Physicians, Kildare Street, Dublin, yesterday
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

A LEADING public relations company, of which presidential candidate Mary Davis's husband is a director, was awarded a contract by a charity where the couple both sat on the board.

Fleishman Hillard was given the contract by Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) while Julian Davis and his wife were both on the board of the not-for-profit charity. Mr Davis personally handled the PR account in addition to his role on the board, the Irish Independent has learned.

Both Ms Davis and her husband last night denied there was a conflict of interest in the award of the contract, which is worth tens of thousands of euro a year to Mr Davis's company.

The revelation came as Ms Davis yesterday finally published full details of her pay from state boards and other directorships, which totalled €390,000 over the past decade.

The Special Olympics boss released the information after the Irish Independent revealed she had been paid over €180,000 for sitting on state boards to which she was appointed by Fianna Fail ministers

But now questions have emerged over the awarding of a PR contract to Ms Davis's husband's firm by SEI. SEI is funded by charitable foundations, including the Ireland Funds and Vodafone Ireland Foundation. Both Ms Davis and her husband have held directorships of the charity in recent years.

Chief executive of SEI Sean Coughlan confirmed Fleishman Hillard was paid for Mr Davis's services.

However, both Mr Coughlan and Mr Davis refused to disclose the amounts paid to Fleishman Hillard.

Mr Coughlan did confirm SEI had no contractual arrangement with any other PR firm.

The charity's most recent accounts show it spent more than €40,000 on PR in 2009. Accounts for 2008 reveal awards, marketing and PR costs of €29,944. Julian and Mary Davis both joined the SEI board shortly after it was set up in 2007. Board members are not paid fees by the organisation.

Fleishman Hillard has held a PR contract with the charity since, having previously done similar work for an associated charity, the One Foundation, where Ms Davis was also a director. Ms Davis stepped down from SEI in 2009, but her husband has remained in place.

Mr Davis last night angrily denied that his paid work for the charity represented any conflict of interest. He said both he and his wife had excused themselves from board meetings where the PR contract was discussed.

Asked to explain why he didn't believe it was a conflict he said: "Because it isn't. No is the answer." The charity's chief executive Mr Coughlan also denied the contract represented a conflict of interest.

However, he confirmed that the charity's directors had held discussions at board level over whether a conflict of interest existed. The most recent of these was earlier this year, he said.

"The board was happy that there was no conflict of interest in the sense that the relationship started before either Julian or Mary got on the board."

He said Fleishman Hillard was originally awarded the contract as it had previously worked with an associated charity, the One Foundation, since 2005. Ms Davis was a director of the One Foundation from 2006 to 2008.

"It was discussed as part of the discussion on the new corporate governance code for SEI. No issue was raised regarding the current contract with Fleishman Hillard."

A spokeswoman for Ms Davis said the candidate did not believe there was any conflict of interest in the awarding of the contract. "Mary Davis did not attend the board meeting in relation to that contract," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Davis's husband also provided PR advice for the Special Olympics for four years. However, this work was unpaid.

Irish Independent

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