Saturday 20 January 2018

Horse racing body's board 'mishandled' reappointment of CEO, says chairman

Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland. Photo: PA
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland. Photo: PA

John Downing Political Correspondent

Failures to finalise details of a fixed-term job contract led to the Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) boss getting an unprecedented third term in his €191,000 per year job.

Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of HRI, will have served 19 years in the post when his twice- extended term expires in 2021 despite government rules fixing a seven-year term. HRI chairman, Joe Keeling, apologised to the Dáil agriculture committee for his board's "mishandling" of the reappointment procedures.

Joe Keeling, chairman of HRI
Joe Keeling, chairman of HRI

"There have been errors - but no wrongdoing. There was no attempt to mislead the minister and the Government," the chairman of the Keeling food group said.

Mr Keeling stressed that he at all times wanted Mr Kavanagh to stay on in the job and he believed the board members also supported that view.

He said he had informally consulted board members.

Independents4Change TD, Clare Daly, said the 19-year term could only be compared with practices in North Korea - or the Olympic Council of Ireland.

Board member Meta Osborne said they had two legal opinions which warned that Mr Kavanagh "potentially" had a Contract of Indeterminate Duration (CID) when considering the reappointment last April.

Fine Gael TD Michael D'Arcy said once a fixed-term contract was not finalised or renewed, it automatically became a permanent contract with strong legal protections.

But none of the three board members attending the committee could say precisely how this contractual status change had happened.

Labour TD Willie Penrose who is also a barrister, said the best county manager was appointed for a seven-year term, and only after great pleading might he or she eventually secure one three-year extension. He said Mr Kavanagh was first appointed in 2001 for seven years and that term was up for extension in 2008.

Mr Penrose said efforts to deal with contract extension dragged into 2011 but were never concluded due to dispute over outstanding issues. These included a stipulation that Mr Kavanagh should have no job of any kind at HRI once that second term expired in 2016.

The Labour agriculture spokesman said that the HRI board had failed in 2011. "You were left holding the baby," Mr Penrose said - adding that he accepted Mr Keeling was chairing HRI without any payment.

Mr Penrose said it was important to keep personalities out of the issue. He accepted that Mr Kavanagh was highly qualified and experienced - but it was "far-fetched" to say a planned major redevelopment of the Curragh Racecourse could not happen without him heading HRI.

Sinn Féin's Martin Kenny said HRI got a grant of €64m compared with €1.4m for Special Olympics.

Irish Independent

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