Saturday 16 December 2017

Party crony got place on board days after losing council seat

Pat Rabbitte
Pat Rabbitte
Denis Leonard

Niall O'Connor and Fionnan Sheahan

LABOUR minister Pat Rabbitte decided to appoint party crony Denis Leonard to a semi-state board just days after he lost his council seat and finished in a dismal seventh place in the Longford-Westmeath by-election.

It's emerged that the former Labour councillor wrote to the Communications Minister directly following Labour's disastrous election result and asked to be made a director of Bord na Mona.

The appointment of Mr Leonard and former Fine Gael TD John Farrelly to the company has left the Government open to accusations of cronyism.

In an extraordinary admission this week, Mr Rabbitte confirmed that the pair's political connections influenced his decision.

It's now emerged that Mr Leonard lobbied Mr Rabbitte after he lost his seat on Westmeath County Council – and was appointed just days after doing so.

In an interview on Midlands radio, the schoolteacher admitted that he did not know whether the board position was publicly advertised.

And he accepted that his Labour connections were a factor in him being appointed.

"I would say for the previous 15 years maybe with other parties in government, I probably mightn't have had the same opportunity because people wouldn't recognise maybe the particular talents I have," he told presenter Will Faulkner.

Asked whether it was right that there was no competition for the board position, Mr Leonard replied: "Well, I don't think there is with any board. As far as I know they are appointments, they are government appointments, as far as I know."

The revelation that a cabinet minister appointed two individuals to a state board because of their political connections has sparked a bitter political row about cronyism.

On Thursday, the favourite to become the new Labour leader, Joan Burton, said she believed all such board positions should be advertised publicly.

Yet when asked by the Irish Independent if the party politics of Mr Farrelly and Mr Leonard had any influence on his decision, Mr Rabbitte admitted: "I think it had some influence on my decision, yes.

"But so did the credentials of the two people; one a businessman, one a lifelong environmentalist and teacher and a person with managerial qualifications who lives and works in the midlands," he said.


His comments came after it emerged that Finance Minister Michael Noonan also appointed a longtime Fine Gael activist to the board of NAMA without going through the public appointments process.

Meanwhile, the widening cronyism controversy has sparked a bitter row between Labour and Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the appointments in question represented a "betrayal of the electorate".

"This Fine Gael/Labour Government has so clearly betrayed the electorate," he said.

However, Labour responded to Sinn Fein's accusations by raising questions about the appointment of Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan to Safefood.

"What qualified Lynn Boylan to be on the board of Safefood? Her stated qualifications appear to have little or no relevance to food safety issues," said Labour TD Ged Nash.

Sinn Fein did not respond to the question surrounding Ms Boylan's appointment but said it rejected any criticism on the issue from Labour.

Irish Independent

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