Thursday 26 April 2018

Kenny stuns FG with top board job for ex-mandarin

Grandees concerned by decision to give Donlon €163,800-a-year role

John Drennan

John Drennan

Concern has been raised within Fine Gael over the "bizarre'' decision to appoint 72-year-old Sean Donlon as a director to Ireland's seat on the board of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Mr Donlon, the former Department of Foreign Affairs chief, was also chief of staff and special adviser to John Bruton when Mr Bruton was Taoiseach in the mid-1990s and he advised Michael Noonan when the Finance Minister led the party in 2001 and 2002.

The plum post commands a €163,800 salary and carries attractive tax provisions.

Speculation was rife within Fine Gael over the reasoning behind the appointment.

One senior Fine Gael grandee noted: "The sheriff [Enda Kenny] is talking about the need to clean up the town, leaving elitism behind, creating a new young dynamic political system and then we appoint this antiquated 73-year-old man to Europe . . . frankly its bizarre politics, to make such a decision in a week where the Dail is not sitting and questions cannot be asked about this."

The appointment of Mr Donlon is all the more curious given the history of strained relations that exists between the former top diplomat and Mr Kenny.

A FG source told the Sunday Independent: "In the time he worked for Fine Gael, Donlon was very much a Bruton and Michael Noonan strongman."

Senior FG sources told the Sunday Independent that "you should remember Donlon carried out an inquiry into the second mobile phone licence evaluation process at the behest of John Bruton following the resignation of Michael Lowry in late 1996".

See Shane Ross Business

Subsequently Mr Donlon also confirmed at the Moriarty tribunal that he had carried out an investigation into the second mobile phone licence process following Mr Lowry's resignation.

He told the tribunal that after Lowry's resignation "the then Taoiseach John Bruton asked me to look at the process through which the decision had been reached and I did so at his request by reviewing the documentation, by talking to one or two officials and by looking at the names of officials who had been involved".

In a rare moment of colour, the former Foreign Affairs mandarin added: "Some of these people I had known. One of them joined the civil service – we both joined the Department of Finance on the same day in 1961."

In the wake of his investigation, Mr Donlon said he "went back to John Bruton and said I believed that the decision, that the process was such that it could not have been subverted".

The subsequent 14-year-long Moriarty tribunal came to a somewhat different series of conclusions in its report.

One FG source noted: "You should recognise back then, and now, that opinion coming from such a respected figure, a man who had stood up to Haughey over the North, was enormously helpful.

"He essentially cleared Bruton and Fine Gael before the election, in the Moriarty tribunal; and Mr Kenny now."

Mr Donlon also gave evidence to both the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals over the level of unhappiness the former chairperson of Independent News and Media Dr Tony O'Reilly expressed to government figures over his failure to win the second mobile phone licence.

He said at the Mahon tribunal, that, in 1997, Dr O'Reilly conveyed to him in person his displeasure at how the government was treating his interests.

Mr Donlon, who worked as a senior executive in the GPA after his retirement from the Department of Foreign Affairs, will forgo his State pension during his term on the ERBD.

Irish Independent

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