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Monday 27 January 2020

IMO stalls probe of €25m pension deal

GEORGE McNEICE: Received a €10m settlement last year
GEORGE McNEICE: Received a €10m settlement last year

Sunday Independent Reporter

In a surprise development, the Irish Medical Organisation has decided to put on ice plans for an independent retrospective review into how its former chief executive was entitled to a near €25m retirement package.

It was also due to look at related companies and payments dating back possibly 20 years.

Last December, a near €10m settlement was negotiated with Mr George McNeice, but he subsequently volunteered to forego a substantial amount of that package.

At a heated extraordinary general meeting in March, doctors backed plans for the independent review of events dating back to 1993, which was expected to seek assistance from the Health Minister, Dr James Reilly who was a senior figure in the union.

It has since emerged that Presidents of the IMO were entitled to an allowance equivalent to around 25 per cent of the CEO's salary, with his salary last year close to €500,000.

But the union, which has been engaged in a war of words with the Health Minister over next Tuesday's planned national strike by junior doctors, has put off the review on cost and other grounds.

In a letter to IMO members, the organisation's president, Dr Matt Sadlier says the review could cost around a quarter of a million euro or more. The IMO has been advised that there may be costs outside of its control, especially potential legal costs which can not be quantified.

Dr Sadlier says the IMO is also concerned that a completed review would not only be very expensive but it might fail to provide the union with a document that could be circulated to members.

After its extraordinary general meeting, the IMO advertised in the national press for expressions of interest from firms interested in managing the review. It secured expressions of interest from 18 companies and shortlisted tenders from four firms.

It has now decided to defer a decision on appointing a company to conduct the review and will bring the issue for debate to members 'at a future date', most likely next year's AGM in April.

At its annual conference in Killarney this year, the then IMO president, Dr Paul McKeown promised that each decision of the former CEO would be examined in the review, including any companies associated with the IMO.

He also said he hoped the former CEO would cooperate with the review.

There were claims that private planes were used for some trips and the review was expected to examine if former presidents flew on these trips and who approved and organised the flights.

During this year's annual conference, it emerged that the former CEO's contract was not signed by the deceased former president, Dr Cormac Macnamara as had been reported but by public health specialist, Dr Joe Barry.

The IMO says it now wants to concentrate on a number of major issues which require significant financial commitments – fighting the Competition Authority over the right to negotiate on GPs fees and contracts with the Government and the current battle by non consultant hospital doctors for reduced working hours.

The case being taken by the Competition Authority against the IMO is due to get underway in the High Court later this year. The union is putting aside a fighting fund of 1 million euro for the battle. It may also go to the High Court on junior doctors' hours. The last published accounts of the IMO show that it has reserves of just €3.2m and it represents over 5,000 doctors.

Last week, the IMO came in for criticism after it emerged that the HSE had questioned the accuracy of thousands of claims by GPs for out of hours care for medical card patients since 2011. The HSE has been applying a 'haircut' of up to 80 per cent to some bills from GPs.

Meanwhile, a separate governance review of the IMO is also not complete and it looks like new rules for the union will not be ready for members until next year's AGM.

The appointment of a new CEO has also been delayed. As a result, Niall Saul, the Executive director of the IMO, who was put in after the departure of Mr McNeice, continues his role.

The union has also decided to move from its long-term AGM home at the five star Hotel Europe in Killarney 'to break from the past'. Next year's AGM will be held in April at the plush Carton House Spa Hotel, with its fine golfing and other facilities.

Sunday Independent

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