Wednesday 22 November 2017

How Ross forced Kenny's hand on €270k job

Shane Ross: dug his heels in. Pic Tom Burke
Shane Ross: dug his heels in. Pic Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A series of emails and letters between Transport Minister Shane Ross, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Finance Minister Michael Noonan reveal the true tensions between the Independent Alliance and Fine Gael.

Mr Ross demanded that Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan not appoint an unnamed person to a €270,000 job without advertising the position publicly.

And the first-time minister then engaged in correspondence on the minute detail of how Ireland's vice-president on the European Investment Bank would be selected.

Last week, the Department of Finance refused to release details of their exchanges, claiming that to do so might "serve to impair the proper functioning of government".

However, the Irish Independent has now obtained a number of letters under the Freedom of Information Act which show that Mr Ross dug his heels in.

On May 19, Mr Kenny "alerted" Mr Ross that he wanted to directly fill the plum position.

It is understood that the two men disagreed strongly over the appointment and on May 23 Mr Ross sent an email to the Taoiseach, stating: "As I told you, I was uncomfortable with the suggestion and would revert after speaking to my Independent Alliance colleagues.

"After consultation with them, we are of the unanimous view that this position should only be filled after a transparent, open, independent process.

"It should include advertising the post, followed by interviews to ensure that the successful candidate is properly qualified for this €270,000-a-year job."

Mr Ross added that Mr Kenny must understand that appointments being made "subject to rigorous non-political processes" was a "fundamental principle" of their group.

Mr Kenny replied that he understood Mr Ross's view and was "happy to discuss".

Ultimately, the Taoiseach caved in. Four days later, an official at Mr Noonan's office devised an interview process but within hours Mr Ross's special adviser was in contact, seeking a number of distinct changes.

He wanted the position advised on, as well as the department's website; a shortlist system to be run through the public appointments system; and a three-person interview panel, including two independent nominees.

Under Mr Ross's plan, the interview panel would ultimately propose a maximum of two people to the Government.

However, the public appointment system could not be used in this case as it takes 12 weeks, while the Taoiseach and Finance Minister both wanted their respective secretaries-general on the interview panel.

Eventually, Mr Ross settled for a four-person panel made up of the two secretaries-general and two independent members.

"They will have to reach a consensus," said a finance official in an email to Mr Ross's office.

The back and forth ended on May 31 with a representative from the Department of Finance writing to confirm that the advertisement would go public the following day, adding: "If your minister has any further questions, my minister suggests that they discuss it on the margins of next week's Cabinet meeting."

The job ultimately went to the Taoiseach's long-serving economic advisor, Andrew McDowell.

Separate briefing documents obtained by the Irish Independent show that on top of the €270,000 salary, Mr McDowell is entitled to an "installation allowance" of €46,000 and a "resettlement allowance" of €23,000. His cost of travel to Luxembourg and moving expenses will also be covered.

And the ECB will pay €3,472 towards his monthly living expenses and another monthly allowance of €911.

There were no objections from anyone in Cabinet to Mr McDowell's appointment.

Irish Independent

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