Tuesday 16 July 2019

Spending at Port must be examined fully – PAC chair

TD says 'extravagance' must be scrutinised - but executives say amounts were audited and justified

Dublin Port HQ and surrounding gardens in Dublin Port. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Dublin Port HQ and surrounding gardens in Dublin Port. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Dublin Port HQ and surrounding gardens in Dublin Port. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Dublin Port HQ and surrounding gardens in Dublin Port. Photo: Gerry Mooney
John Downing

John Downing

There must be more scrutiny of spending by the State-owned Dublin Port Company, the chairman of the powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has insisted.

Seán Fleming spoke out following reports that senior staff spent €520,000 on company credit cards for flights, hotels and entertainment in 2018.

The 'Sunday Independent' also revealed that the company chief executive, Eamonn O'Reilly, spent €95,000 on such items via his credit card in 2018.

Other expenditure items included €200,000 for the commission and performance of a special piece of music for a ferry launch, and a total of €7m on revamping the port facilities to open it up more to the inner city and develop a garden.

The Dublin Port authorities have said they stand over all spending as both correct and appropriate, and insisted that it was included in the audited accounts.

But the TD who chairs the taxpayers' spending watchdog said he was concerned by reports concerning the semi-state company.

Scrutiny drive: Committee chairman Seán Fleming TD. Photo: Collins
Scrutiny drive: Committee chairman Seán Fleming TD. Photo: Collins

"This apparent level of extravagance needs to be examined and, if necessary, rooted out.

"The issues must be reviewed by an Oireachtas committee as soon as possible," Mr Fleming told the Irish Independent.

Mr Fleming, a chartered accountant and Fianna Fáil TD for Laois, said he would establish whether the issue was under the remit of his committee or another appropriate committee, such as that which oversees transport issues.

"I believe a decision must be taken in the coming week. The various committees will liaise to ensure there is no duplication," the PAC chairman said.

Pictured Eamonn O'Reilly CEO, Dublin Port Company, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and Geraldine O'Reilly. Photo: Conor McCabe
Pictured Eamonn O'Reilly CEO, Dublin Port Company, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD and Geraldine O'Reilly. Photo: Conor McCabe

Louth Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, the chairman of another committee on transport and tourism, said he will discuss the issue of responsibility with Dáil colleagues in the coming days.

Mr O'Dowd said his committee members had been due to visit Dublin Port soon to discuss issues around visiting cruise ships.

"The Oireachtas will certainly have to consider issues of spending by the port company. Transparency is always an issue," Mr O'Dowd said.

Dublin Port Company is among a number of semi-state entities which are exempted from the Freedom of Information (FoI) regime on grounds that they must protect commercially sensitive information. But some semi-state firms, such as Irish Water, are subject to FoI because they have a monopoly in their sector, and some advocates of more openness argue that Dublin Port does not have a rival port.

Dublin Port. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Dublin Port. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Dublin Port Company redoubled its defence of spending yesterday by arguing that €7m purportedly spent on "a garden" was in fact spent on a much more wide-ranging development.

This was in line with its obligation to open up the port area to adjoining communities living in the East Wall area of Dublin.

Officials said the Dublin Port Company had been anxious in recent years to "soften" the boundaries with local communities and offer a more inclusive approach to relations with people living in the locality. This added to the forthright and trenchant defence of its activities issued earlier.

The company said that it is Ireland's largest and busiest port, with ongoing investment programmes which will total €1bn over the next decade. Dublin Port Company has a €90m annual turnover with a total operating cost base of almost €44m.

The company added all expenditure - including items like travel, subsistence, and hospitality - was included in the audited accounts. A total of 22 company credit cards were issued to staff members out of a total 160 staffers, and all spending required prior approval up to certain limits appropriate to the staff member's grade.

Credit card spending is subject to internal audits and reviews.

The chief executive's credit card spending is approved by the board chairperson.

The Dublin Port Company defended its overseas travel as necessary to maintain in-trade links and keep abreast of industry trends, with no other port of that scale currently in Ireland.

Staff used economy class for short-haul flights and business class for longer air journeys, it said.

Irish Independent

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