Thursday 23 November 2017

Revealed: IDA chief in row over gay marriage call

Senior executive gobsmacked by Shanahan's email stating a Yes vote is good for business

CONTROVERSY: Martin Shanahan has moved to defuse a row after an email was allegedly sent to staff stating that a Yes vote in gay-marriage referendum ‘would be good for business’
CONTROVERSY: Martin Shanahan has moved to defuse a row after an email was allegedly sent to staff stating that a Yes vote in gay-marriage referendum ‘would be good for business’

Simon Rowe

IDA chief Martin Shanahan had to schedule a "clear-the-air" meeting to defuse a row with one of his senior marketing managers after calling for a Yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum by claiming it would be "good for business".

The behind-closed-doors meeting, which is believed to have taken place in recent days, was sparked by an email sent to Shanahan by IDA executive Gerard O'Connor, who called on his boss to provide evidence to support his claims of the "supposed impact on industry and IDA's core business or function" of a Yes vote.

In the email - seen by the Sunday Independent - Gerard O'Connor, a business development manager in the IDA's regional headquarters in Limerick, wrote: "I know of no internal or external prior consultation or of any study of the evidence of the supposed impact on industry and IDA's core business or function."

Responding to an email, sent on May 1 to all IDA staff, summarising Shanahan's published views on the same-sex marriage referendum, with the subject line, 'Martin Shanahan: 'A Yes vote is good for business', Mr O'Connor wrote: "When I read this I was gobsmacked. I strongly request that it be withdrawn immediately and an apology issued."

O'Connor, a well-respected former business advisor at Shannon Development, added: "As a father of four, I understand that the proposed amendment to the Irish constitution will remove the unique and privileged status in Ireland for marriage between a man and a woman."

When contacted, Mr O'Connor insisted the email was an "internal IDA document" and declined to comment.

However, it is believed that Shanahan had a private meeting with O'Connor in Limerick in recent days in a bid to "clear the air".

The IDA has insisted that Shanahan's comments on same-sex marriage were made "in a personal capacity in response to questions raised during a wide-ranging interview".

When asked to respond to questions regarding the internal IDA row, a spokesman said: "We have no plans to comment any further."

The controversy stems from an interview published three weeks before the May 22 referendum in which Shanahan said: "In my view, a Yes vote will say that Ireland is open, inclusive and welcomes diversity, and that would be a very positive message to be sending internationally and I think it is what, internationally, people believe.

"A No vote, conversely, would send a very negative message which is that we are not open, we don't welcome diversity and we are not inclusive.

"So I think it's very important in that regard. It would be good for business."

Shanahan's comments also sparked irate correspondence from the public and from No campaigners, who complained that he had "abused his position" and "compromised the objectivity and integrity" of the organisation, the IDA has confirmed.

Amid claims that Shanahan's remarks were a 'solo run' made without prior consultation with his political bosses, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation confirmed that "this issue was not discussed in advance with DJEI".

A spokesperson for jobs minister, Richard Bruton, said: "There were no discussions between the department and IDA Ireland about the interview comments you refer to, in advance of them being made."

Sunday Independent

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