Sunday 17 December 2017

Regeneration boss 'sorry' for jobs error

Barry Duggan

Board anger as Kenny flouts rules to appoint daughter

EVIDENCE of deep dissatisfaction amongst board members of Limerick's Regeneration Agencies over corporate governance issues has been revealed by a Sunday Independent investigation.

According to documentation acquired by us, disharmony at board level was particularly acute after its members were made aware of the employment of chief executive Brendan Kenny's daughter and a board member's son. Both were employed by Mr Kenny without adherence to the public sector recruitment regulations.

Yvonne Kenny was hired by her father as a clerical officer on an annual salary of €35,000, while Brian McElligott -- son of board member Liam McElligott, who was also chief executive of Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership (LEDP) -- was appointed as a project officer with a salary of €45,000. Both received five-year contracts.

Minutes of a tense board meeting on December 16, 2009 -- ironically held at the offices of LEDP -- after the hiring of the duo came to light show the level of disquiet the controversy caused.

Despite an apology by Mr Kenny to the board for not bringing the issue to their attention, the matter still led to a heated exchange.

Limerick city manager Tom Mackey, since retired, refused to accept the explanations given by either Mr Kenny or John Fitzgerald (chairman). Mr Mackey went as far as to express "very strong reservations about these issues".

Referring to Mr Fitzgerald's comments about the urgency required in recruiting staff, Mr Mackey said it "did not justify compromising standards of corporate governance" and that the regeneration board had the same responsibilities and duties as all other State bodies.

Heavily critical of what occurred, Mr Mackey said the "departures from normal public sector procedures on recruitments, contracts and salaries would not be accepted in the local government sector". He said what happened was a mistake and that his strong reservations should be duly recorded.

However, at the next meeting of the Regeneration board at the LEDP offices again, on January 18, 2010, Mr Mackey said he did not consider that his "personal reservations" to the recruitment of two children of board members had been adequately recorded in the minutes for the previous meeting.

Mr Fitzgerald had earlier outlined the background to the recruitment and reiterated the urgency that was needed to get the regeneration under way in Limerick in 2007. He said the recruitment process, details of staff positions and their salaries were provided to the environment department the same year. Mr Fitzgerald acknowledged that the recruitment issue should have been brought to the attention of board members at the outset.

Mr Kenny apologised to the board for not bringing to their attention "the specific detail" that the junior staff members appointed were related to himself and to Liam McElligott.

Clare county manager Tom Coughlan enquired if there were any other issues of which the board should be informed.

Department of the Environment official Mary Tully told Mr Kenny and Mr McElligott that the agencies had signed up for corporate governance and reminded all of the various policies from the guidelines on corporate governance on State bodies. However, the minutes state that Pat McSitric from the Department of Education accepted Mr Kenny's apology.

Southill parish priest, Fr Pat Hogan, reminded the board they "should not forget the true job of regeneration" and said six people had been murdered since the establishment of the Regeneration Agencies two years previously.

It was decided by the board to reaffirm the importance of ensuring compliance with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies and public sector norms governing recruitment and remuneration. The minutes of the meeting record that all future personnel matters will be addressed by the agencies in a compliant manner. It was also noted that training would be arranged with the Institute of Public Administration on governance of boards.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent last week, Mr Kenny admitted that he had made a mistake.

Asked if he considered that what had occurred was nepotism, Mr Kenny said he was told to get people together to work for the Regeneration Agencies at the time.

"If I was starting again, I wouldn't do it that way, but at the end of the day, you have to pick people that you can trust. I was told to pick a team as quickly as possibly. It was a crisis situation, but it was back in a different era in 2007 when there was jobs for everybody -- it wasn't a case that there wasn't jobs around," he said.

"If I waited to go through the whole recruitment process for six or seven months, I would have probably been ran out of the regeneration areas. It has been dealt with by the board and is in the public domain."

He added, "I was hand-picked as well. There was a crisis in Limerick and I was asked to put a team together quickly. The communities wanted action quickly. If you waited for the public recruitment system, it would have taken seven or eight months. Of course, in hindsight I would have done it differently.

"It was dealt with through the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Department of Finance and Department of Environment. All the people I recruited, they were recruited carefully for the job. They have all worked their butts off for the last years -- way above the call."

The Regeneration Agencies, which were set up to assist communities in four Limerick areas -- Moyross, Southill, St Mary's Park and Ballinacurra-Weston -- will be wound up next month.

Sunday Independent

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