Friday 6 December 2019

'Insiders' given lucrative Eircode consultancy jobs

Patrick O'Donovan. Pic Tom Burke
Patrick O'Donovan. Pic Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Three retired public servants effectively "won the Lotto" when they were hired without any competitive process to work on the controversial Eircode project, according to a member of the Dáil's spending watchdog.

The consultants earned almost €350,000 between them, with one charging €1,230 a day for his services.

It was revealed at a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that one of the consultants, a former ESB employee, was paid €146,000.

Another consultant, a retired Department of Agriculture official, was paid €158,000.

A third consultant, formerly a senior official at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, earned €44,000.

All of the former public servants were handpicked by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources without any tenders being sought for the roles.

The disclosure was branded "an absolute scandal" by PAC member Patrick O'Donovan.

"They won the Lotto," Mr Donovan, pictured, said. "I think it stinks. It absolutely stinks that people get this sort of work from the inside having previously worked on the inside at values in excess of €145,000 and some of them probably in receipt of pensions of that order as well."

The secretary general of the Department of Communications, Mark Griffin, defended the filling of the positions without an open competition, insisting it was "not unusual".

He said there had been a need to move swiftly to fill the roles and that those involved had particular skill sets.

"This was a very large public/private IT project," said Mr Griffin.

"It was absolutely essential once the contract was awarded by Government that we were in a position to deploy the right resources.

"There is a practice in Government departments of using, where necessary, retired public servants."

Amid robust exchanges, Mr Griffin said he took exception to suggestions the three former public servants had "won the Lotto".

The committee heard three other consultancy contracts were also entered into without open tendering.

A private sector company was paid €53,000, a law firm was paid €109,000 and a service contractor seconded from Ervia was paid €200,000.

The hearing was told the cost of setting up Eircode was €20m more than was initially budgeted for in 2009.

Its total cost came in at €38m, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the committee.

It was told that costs for consultants and department staff were not included in the early estimates for the project.

Estimates were also based on a different type of address system than the one that was ultimately introduced.

Mr Griffin defended the new system and insisted its use was growing.

He said An Post was using it as part of its sorting system, and that the Department of Social Protection, the HSE and the Revenue Commissioners had started to use it.

Irish Independent

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