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Saturday 16 December 2017

Education chiefs did not approve expenses paid to leading pianist

Katherine Donnelly

TAXPAYERS picked up half the tab for home entertaining by internationally renowned pianist John O'Conor, as well as an annual salary worth €225,000 in his role as Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM).

Neither had the approval of the Department of Education, which pays about €4m a year to the academy to cover half its running costs.

The pay and perks package for Dr O'Conor, who retired this year, was uncovered in an audit by the State spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG).

The C&AG also found four staff in another educational organisation had their pensions topped to the combined tune of €800,000 in an early retirement deal. The C&AG reports are now to undergo a probe by the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Dr O'Conor's remuneration arose from two separate contracts he had with the RIAM, as well as additional payments for extra services.

In 2008 he received:

  • €138,072 for the part-time post as RIAM director, including an €88,200 payment into a private pension policy.
  • €65,254 as a part-time music teacher.
  • €21,698 for a two-day piano workshop for teachers.
  • €500 for a concert fee.

There was no record of formal approval by the Governing body for the arrangements around the piano workshop in September 2008, for which Dr O'Conor received more than half the income of €39,775.

Dr O'Conor also had an expenses budget of €23,000 for 2008, of which he received €22,963, as well as €5,325 in travel costs and €1,322 for other sundries. When he submitted his monthly credit card bill invoices were not attached.

Most of the claims were for restaurant meals for named individuals and "there were also substantial claims in relation to catering costs for hospitality provided in his home" for which guest listings were supplied.


Meanwhile, the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) did not have the required approval from either its own council or the Minster for Education for the pension top-ups to the value of €800,000 for four staff who retired as part of the amalgamation process with two other education bodies.

PAC chairman Bernard Allen last night hit out at the "flaw and waste" in bodies that had received substantial State funding. "Last September, a C&AG report highlighted practices in universities whereby some staff were paid unauthorised salaries and bonuses. Regrettably, this report seems to show more of the same."

Irish Independent

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