LRC chief denies conflict of interest over jet trip
THE chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey has denied there was a potential conflict of interest in him flying to the Special Olympics in Athens by private jet at the invitation of billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien.
Mr Mulvey, who is also chairman of the Irish Sports Council, said the "generous and honourable" invitation from Mr O'Brien, who is chairman of the Special Olympics Ireland Council of Patrons, saved the taxpayer money.
"I don't see a conflict of interest. The invitation from Denis came by letter. He indicated he was bringing the Council of Patrons of Special Olympics Ireland to Greece and as chairman of the sports council he asked if I would like to attend.
"I decided, yes. I didn't see any problem. The alternative I had was to travel at taxpayers' expense to represent the taxpayer. So I didn't, quite frankly, see any problem," Mr Mulvey said.
The Irish Sports Council (ISC) drastically reduced the Government funds awarded to Special Olympics Ireland this year -- down from €2.3m in 2010 to €1.5m in 2011. The ISC subsequently awarded a further €265,000 to Special Olympics Ireland towards its Athens costs. The cut in funding was justified because, in the view of the ISC, Special Olympics Ireland had significant funds in reserve.
The games in Athens were also attended by Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring, Irish Sports Council CEO John Treacy and Special Olympics Chief Mary Davis, who is running for the presidency as an Independent.
Mr O'Brien has a wide range of private business interests in Ireland, including Communicorp interests in radio stations 98fm, Newstalk, Today FM, Spin 103 and Spin Southwest.
He is also the largest shareholder in Independent News and Media. The billionaire businessman also owned,as of February this year, 3.3 per cent (17.6 million shares) in Aer Lingus, currently embroiled in an industrial dispute before the Labour Relations Commission.
Mr Mulvey told the Sunday Independent that he had been a supporter of Special Olympics since it started.
"I am a fundraiser for them and I attend all their events. If I thought for one moment there was a conflict I would have declined the invitation," he said.
He said there was no conflict of interest either in his role with the ISC or the LRC.
"I attend the Impact conference. I attend the craft unions conference and I attend the Siptu conference. They are all stakeholders in Aer lingus. Does that create a problem for anybody?" he asked.
Mr Mulvey added: "People would really have to go a long way to question my independence in anything I do after 21 years working in the [Labour Relations] Commission."
He insisted that he was very conscious of potential conflicts of interests.
"It was a generous and honourable invitation and I don't see any conflict of interest, absolutely not. Look, I don't get involved in any of Denis O'Brien's business in any way. Denis has, I think, a two to three per cent shareholding in Aer Lingus. Now can I ask you do you think that that would influence me in any way?"
Mr Mulvey said that he had arbitrated on many disputes at Aer Lingus, including disagreements between the airline and cabin crew.
"I have arbitrated on pilots without fear or favour to anyone. I have arbitrated and made recommendations to Aer Lingus for more than 20 years -- some of which have saved the airline from collapse, including the rescue plan in 2001 and the Cahill plan in 1992.
"Anything I have done for Special Olympics is because of my love for the Special Olympics movement; the volunteers, the parents and the children. All I can say is haven't they done us proud over the last week? I wish other people would rise to the same standard and the same capacity."
Mr Mulvey has served on a number of public bodies.
He was a member of the Independent Radio and Television Commission, and has served on the National Economic and Social Council and the governing bodies of UCD and DCU. He is a former general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT).
Last October Mulvey's travel arrangements were at the centre of controversy when it was revealed that he, along with two members of his team at the LRC, clocked up a bill of almost €22,000 on a two-week trip to Australia and Beijing in September 2007. The trip included a speech at a conference in Australia and meetings with Enterprise Ireland officials in Beijing.
Mr Mulvey's appointment as chairman of the Irish Sports Council by previous sports minister Mary Hanafin last September was broadly welcomed. It was seen as an attempt to draw a line under a turbulent few years for the ISC during the chairmanship of Mr Mulvey's predecessor Ossie Kilkenny.
The ISC had been embroiled in a number of costly legal disputes and Mulvey, with his skills as a mediator, was seen as a steady hand on the tiller.