Tuesday 20 February 2018

'Not bad looking', but NTA woman has worst record

Valerie O'Reilly absent for 37pc of meetings in 2014

Valerie O'Reilly, who was described as 'not bad looking' by Michael Lowry TD.
Valerie O'Reilly, who was described as 'not bad looking' by Michael Lowry TD.
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Valerie O'Reilly, the "not bad looking" woman at the centre of the Michael Lowry Dail note scandal, had the worst attendance record last year on the State board she is seeking to be re-appointed to.

Ms O'Reilly, Mr Lowry's former press adviser, received at least €55,000 in fees over five years from the National Transport Authority board to which the controversial TD lobbied Taoiseach Enda Kenny to have her re-appointed.

But the Sunday Independent has discovered that Ms O'Reilly was absent for three of the eight disclosed board meetings in 2014, or 37pc.

No other board member missed as many meetings in 2014 as Ms O'Reilly, who had a far better attendance record in 2013 and 2012. In both years, she missed two out of 12 meetings, or 16pc.

Last week the Sunday Independent revealed how Mr Lowry passed a note to Mr Kenny in the Dail seeking to have Ms O'Reilly re-appopinted to the board of the NTA, ending the note saying: "She's not bad looking either!"

The note, published by the Sunday Independent, said: "Taoiseach, would you please consider reappointing Valerie O'Reilly to the board of the NTA. A woman, bright intelligent and not bad looking either! Michael Lowry."

Speaking in the wake of the controversy, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted that the only basis upon which Ms O'Reilly's request to be re-appointed will be considered based on merit.

Ms O'Reilly, managing director of Unicorn PR, turned down several requests for comment on the controversy from the Sunday Independent.

Despite Government statements that all appointments to state boards are done through the public appointments system, it has emerged that the rules allow ministers scope to appointments "other than strictly in accordance with the process".

Guidelines issued by Minister Brendan Howlin's department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) state there are a number of specific exceptions to the rules permissible. Mr Lowry declined to comment on the ongoing controversy when contacted by the Sunday Independent this weekend.

But he has caused some tension within the Government by suggesting the note was given to the Sunday Independent by a Labour member of the coalition.

He said that the note was passed on with the "full knowledge" of Environment Minister Alan Kelly, his constituency rival. Mr Kelly has strongly denied he had anything to do with the note's surfacing.

However, considerable efforts have been taken to reveal the identity of the person who picked up the note from the Government benches.

Ms O'Reilly has been sitting on the board of the National Transport Authority (NTA) - where members get €11,970 a year in fees - for almost five years. Mr Lowry's comments on Ms O'Reilly's "not bad looking" appearance has sparked anger among his female colleagues in the Dáil.

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said she was concerned that such a "shallow view" of women still existed in Irish politics. "Handing a note over in the chamber is very peculiar and the contents, I think, didn't do her justice," Ms Corcoran Kennedy told the Irish Independent.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy questioned why Mr Lowry felt it was an appropriate way to lobby the Taoiseach.

"I wonder what type of a relationship he has with the Taoiseach that he can send that type of note," Ms Murphy said.

"I think it's done her a serious disservice and you think these type of things are over and then they crop up again."

Former Fine Gael minister Lucinda Creighton said she believes the exchange between the Taoiseach and Michael Lowry was proof that the "nod and a wink" culture was an "attitude that still persists" throughout Government.

Ms O'Reilly has been running her business, Unicorn Public Relations, for more than a decade and clients include Clerys department store in Dublin and the Irish Heart Foundation.

Before setting up her own company, she worked with Chris Roche Publicity, where she handled various accounts including for Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance.

Mr Lowry is currently facing High Court action over alleged unpaid taxes to the Revenue Commissioner.

Mr Lowry personally approached Mr Donohoe about the reappointment of his former press adviser to a State board. Mr Lowry pulled Mr Donohoe aside outside the Seanad chamber last Wednesday week and informed him "out of courtesy" that he intended to "pass a note to the Taoiseach" seeking the re-appointment of Valerie O'Reilly to the board of the National Transport Authority (NTA).

Later in the Dail, the former minister handed the note to an usher who proceeded to pass it on to Enda Kenny.

Sunday Independent

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