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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Finance civil servant Cardiff grilled over €3.6bn error

Kevin Cardiff. Photo: Reuters

Ed Carty

MEPs have received an unprecedented amount of emails lobbying over the Government's controversial nominee to a top auditing body in Europe.

Kevin Cardiff, former secretary general of the Department of Finance when a €3.6bn accounting error was uncovered, denied money had been lost.

In an open interview in Brussels where he was grilled by several MEPs, the career civil servant also insisted the mistake will not happen again.

"I'd like to be very clear about this, there will be people in Ireland no doubt looking at this - we have not lost anybody's cash," he said.

"No money has gone missing. What happened was that a recording of a transaction was done by two bodies."

German MEP Ingeborg Grassle claimed that the amount of emails from Ireland lobbying over Mr Cardiff's nomination had never been seen before.

Mr Cardiff, in the running for a position on the European Court of Auditors, said an internal and external review had been launched into why the accounting blunder misreported Ireland's debt.

The National Treasury Management Agency flagged up the error several times in 2010 and contacted the Department of Finance asking for guidance on how it should be dealt with.

Mr Cardiff said he was not being coy but declined to name anyone he believed to be personally responsible for the double-count of borrowings for the Housing Finance Agency.

"I'm happy that the mistake will never happen again but what worries me is what other mistakes can happen - that's my job as an accounting officer," he told MEPs.

Mr Cardiff, appearing at the Committee on Budgetary Control of the European Parliament who vote on the auditors' nominations, said careers would be on the line if he singled anyone out.

He previously blamed human error.

Mr Cardiff's fate for the plum European job lies in the hands of the 29 MEPs who make up the committee.

The post in the Luxembourg-based court, which oversees the EU's accounts, carries a pay packet of about €276,000.

Mr Cardiff had also been criticised after claiming the auditing job would be a "doddle" while being grilled by Irish politicians over the multibillion euro accounting mistake.

He attempted to clarify the description by claiming he had worked through four years of turmoil and tough decision making in the Department of Finance in Dublin on the back of one of the worst banking collapses on record.

"By comparison to the four years of sheer battling, the nights in which you wake up wondering if you made a mistake that would cost a billion or would make a billion... I thought it would be easier," he said.

"I certainly was not suggesting that the job of the Court of Auditors would be easy."

Mr Cardiff was one of a small number of senior civil servants present on the night of September 30 2008 when the blanket 440 billion euro was introduced.

The career civil servant said he gave his personal opinions that night.

Labour MEPs Nessa Childers and Phil Prendergast and Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly have questioned Mr Cardiff's nomination.

UK Independence Party MEP Marta Andreasen, who is on the committee, has called for his appointment to be withdrawn.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said: "I think of all the people who are nominated to serve on European Auditors over the years by Ireland, Kevin Cardiff was the most qualified for the job."

The committee has gone into private session and a decision on who the MEPs will support is expected later today or tomorrow.

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