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Coillte chiefs refuse to tell Government how much CEO is paid

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Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney (right) with Gerry Britchfield Acting CEO, Coillte at SmarPly at Waterford Port. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal.

Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney (right) with Gerry Britchfield Acting CEO, Coillte at SmarPly at Waterford Port. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal.

Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney (right) with Gerry Britchfield Acting CEO, Coillte at SmarPly at Waterford Port. Photo: Maxwells/Julien Behal.

Forestry body Coillte has refused to tell the Government how much it is paying its top executive.

The semi-state company would not answer direct questions from officials about the remuneration of its acting chief executive Gerry Britchfield, the Irish Independent has learned.

Despite being appointed on a temporary basis in March last year, Mr Britchfield still holds the role 18 months on and his salary has never been disclosed by the company.

Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act shows Coillte defied requests from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Public Expenditure for details of his salary.

Officials wrote to Coillte after Mr Britchfield's appointment stating it was Government policy that the terms of an interim chief executive should not be better than those offered to an actual CEO.

In Coillte's case the Government-imposed salary cap for its chief executive is €191,000 and the Department of Agriculture said it was important Mr Britchfield was not paid more than that.

However, Coillte, which is the largest land-owner in the State and manages the country's forests, refused to clarify Mr Britchfield's salary.

Gerry Egan, Coillte's group director of corporate affairs, informed department officials of its belief that Mr Britchfield was not subject to salary disclosure requirements.

He also said the company had received legal advice that Mr Britchfield was not subject to Section 35 of the 1988 Forestry Act, which requires Coillte's chief executive to abide by terms and conditions determined by the Government.

Mr Egan said Mr Britchfield had been appointed acting chief executive. "He has not, in fact, been appointed as CEO or indeed interim CEO," he said.

As well as being acting chief executive, Mr Britchfield is also managing director of a Coillte division, Coillte Panel Products.

This division does not publish its own set of accounts or disclose its senior staff remuneration.

Mr Egan told the Department of Agriculture that Coillte's board had agreed Mr Britchfield would retain his current remuneration package for the duration of his term as acting chief executive.

"The acting role can be terminated by him or by the board on one week's notice whereupon Mr Britchfield will return to his previous position as managing director of Coillte Panel Products," he wrote.

Coillte has been at loggerheads with the Government over salary caps for semi-state chief executives in the past.

Former chairman Brendan McKenna expressed concerns to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney that it would not be able to attract "high-calibre candidates" in future. Mr McKenna also said bonuses were a "critical component" in attracting top executives.

The top job at the forestry body has traditionally been among the best paid in the semi-State sector.

Its previous chief executive, David Gunning, whose remuneration included bonuses and other benefits, had annual packages ranging between €372,000 and €489,000-a-year during his term in charge.

Coillte told the Irish Independent its failure to appoint a chief executive was in no way related to salary issues.

It said the company decided against appointing a permanent successor to Mr Gunning while the Government was considering a merger of Coillte and Bord na Mona. But with a full merger now ruled out, Coillte said it would be advertising for the role this week.

Irish Independent