Sunday 17 December 2017

Gerry Adams describes Joan Burton's decision to appoint David Begg to State board as 'crass stupidity'

Former ICTU general secretary David Begg, who has been appointed as chairman of the Pensions Authority. Photo: Tom Burke
Former ICTU general secretary David Begg, who has been appointed as chairman of the Pensions Authority. Photo: Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle and Anne Marie Walsh

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has described the decision of Tánaiste Joan Burton to appoint former union boss David Begg to a State board as “crass stupidity”.

Mr Adams said his party has not yet decided whether it will support a no motion confidence in the Labour Party leader which will be debated in the Dáil next Tuesday and Wednesday.

But he said: “I think the arrogance of the Tánaiste is just staggering. This is the government which presented itself as being about transparency and reform and democratic revolution.

“Just the absolutely arrogance and crass stupidity. If she wanted to appoint anybody she could have done it through the procedures that are in place, she didn’t,” he said.

Ms Burton is to face a motion of no confidence from the Independent Alliance in the Dáil next Tuesday amid accusations of cronyism.

The ex-Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) boss said that he would not be "hounded out" of his new position as Pensions Authority chairman - but added he would have no problem standing aside if the Government wanted to review his appointment.

Ms Burton bypassed the normal public appointments procedure to personally offer Mr Begg (63) the €20,000-a-year post.

She used a little-known clause in the guidelines for making appointments to State boards which says that a minister can independently identify a person "who is evidently and objectively highly qualified" for the position.

In a series of radio interviews yesterday, Mr Begg hit out at Independent TD Shane Ross who has criticised the appointment, saying Mr Ross has a 30-year history "of attacking me".

"I'm not going to be hounded out of the job by some people who think they can exercise this as a cause celebre for themselves. If the heat gets very high, you can't just abandon the kitchen," he said.

In response, Mr Ross told the Irish Independent that the appointment was "a terrible example of continued cronyism".

He said his group did not expect to win the motion of no confidence, but added: "It will highlight that political patronism is alive and well in the dying days of the Dáil."

Asked last night whether Ms Burton might review the decision in light of the controversy, a spokesman for the Labour Party leader said: "The Tánaiste has nominated David Begg because of his wide-ranging expertise, abilities and track record in dealing with private and public sector issues, including pensions, throughout his career, and believes he will be an excellent appointment to the Pensions Authority."

Mr Begg has not yet received a formal letter of appointment but is already listed on the Pension Authority website as its chairman.

He is due to appear before the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection at the end of the month, where TDs and senators will be able to question his qualifications for the job.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin rejected the charge of cronyism "because David Begg is not a member of the Labour Party, to my knowledge has never been, but he is somebody who is regarded highly by every politician, well maybe [not by] one or two that you could mention, but by the vast majority of politicians for his work in the trade union movement over the last 30 years".

Both the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) and the Impact trade union welcomed the appointment.

"There has been an awful lot of unnecessary mock outrages about the appointment," said Impact's Niall Shanahan.

Danny McCoy of Ibec said: "David Begg is highly respected and will bring a wealth of relevant experience to the role of chairman."

Irish Independent

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