Thursday 23 November 2017

Enda's 'iron grip' on Arts board revealed

FOI: Lucinda Creighton says the new appointments system ‘would appear to be in an appalling state'
FOI: Lucinda Creighton says the new appointments system ‘would appear to be in an appalling state'
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's insistence on maintaining an iron grip on appointments to State boards has been revealed following the release of confidential emails sent by his most senior advisor.

A series of internal communications between Mr Kenny's chief of staff Mark Kennelly and officials at the Department of the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, obtained by Renua leader Lucinda Creighton under the Freedom of Information Act, show how the Taoiseach and then-Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore were directly involved in the State board appointment process within months of coming into Government.

Responding on June 20, 2011 to an email from a civil servant in the Department of the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht in relation to the appointment of a new member to the board of the Arts Council, Mr Kennelly made it clear that it was not in the then-Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan's gift to make the decision.

Mr Kennelly wrote: "I will bring these vacancies to the Taoiseach and Tanaiste and get back to you. The Minister should not proceed with filling any vacancies until then."

In a follow-up email sent on September 8, 2011, the same civil servant wrote to Mr Kennelly to advise him of the names of three individuals whom the Arts Minister was proposing for appointment to the Arts Council. While the names of two of the nominees - the musician Ciaran Walsh and the actor Mark O'Regan - were released under FOI, the third name was redacted.

In a separate email to Mr Kennelly on the same date, the civil servant assured Mr Kennelly, saying: "We know these appointments cannot be made without reference from yourselves."

Responding to Mr Deenihan's proposal on October 7, 2011, the Taoiseach's chief of staff wrote: "The final nominee is John Fanning as per [Arts Council Director of Public Affairs] Sean MacCarthaigh. Short bio follows."

According to the Arts Council website, both Mr Walsh and Mr O'Regan were appointed to its board on September 13, 2011, while Mr Fanning was appointed on October 7, 2011.

Mr Fanning's official biography states that he is a specialist in advertising, branding, marketing and communications. A former managing director of McConnell's Advertising and a lecturer at the UCD Smurfit School of Business, he had served on the boards of the Abbey and Rough Magic Theatre companies prior to being appointed to the Arts Council.

News of the direct involvement of the Taoiseach and the then-Tanaiste Mr Gilmore in the State board appointments process follows last week's revelation by the Sunday Independent that Finance Minister Michael Noonan had expressed his concern that the appointment of Fine Gael trustee Mari Hurley to the board of Nama would need to be balanced with appointments for the Labour Party.

In the memo obtained by Ms Creighton under FOI, Mr Noonan's special advisor Eoin Dorgan said: "The Minister proposes to appoint Mari Hurley to the board of Nama and the Minister is conscious of the need to balance this appointment with appointments for Labour."

Commenting on the release of the latest correspondence, Ms Creighton said: "The Coalition has made much of its new appointments system. This, however, seems to operate more in theory than in practice. Renua intends to reform this system as a matter of urgency. It would be appear to be in an appalling state."

Sunday Independent

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