Monday 20 November 2017

We won't quit CRC board, says Bertie's 'dig-out' pal

Jim Nugent, the new acting CEO of the Central Remedial Clinic. Photo: Tom Burke

THE new acting chief executive of the troubled CRC, who famously gave a "dig-out" to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, remains defiant over the use of charity funds to subsidise salary top-ups.

Jim Nugent -- who is also the clinic's chairman -- said the board of directors would not be resigning over the top-ups controversy and has done nothing to warrant stepping down.

And he claimed that "innuendo" in the media over the top-ups had damaged morale at the centre. Mr Nugent was a key member of the "Drumcondra mafia" who were close to Mr Ahern and he told the Mahon Tribunal that he gave the former Taoiseach €2,500.

He has assumed the chief executive role at the CRC on an interim basis following the shock resignation of its recently appointed chief executive Brian Conlan in the wake of the top-ups controversy.

Speaking after a meeting of the CRC board last night, Mr Nugent told the Irish Independent: "The board does not intend to resign and sees no purpose -- nor does the board believe that anything that has been said would warrant that."

He spoke as he was exiting the meeting with fellow board member and former chairman Hamilton Goulding.

Asked if they had any regrets over the payment of salary top-ups to some executives, Mr Nugent said: "Sorry, I have no more to say."

Mr Goulding confirmed that representatives of the CRC would appear before the Dail's Public Accounts Committee.

"It's happening very soon and the members have been chosen (to appear)," he confirmed. "I really don't want to say who it is."

However, he promised that the representatives would be forthcoming in response to TDs' questions, saying: "It's going to happen and everything that has to be asked will be answered."

Asked what was discussed at last night's board meeting, Mr Goulding replied: "This organisation -- 62 years it has been serving disabled people in Ireland. It's renowned in Ireland, Europe, the United States. It has never turned a client away. It has never charged for a client.

"And some of the innuendo and allegations in the press have damaged morale here very seriously.

"The focus for everybody involved -- everybody involved in any way whatsoever -- must be the restoration of the finest quality services to disabled people here in Ireland. Irish disabled people deserve the best.

"They've been getting the best here for years and we're making sure they're going to continue to get the best.

"Things have to be looked at and they will be -- all kinds of things are under discussion and in the proper place they will be discussed," Mr Goulding said.

Mr Nugent has taken the reins of the organisation following the shock resignation of its recently appointed chief executive Brian Conlan in the wake of the top-ups controversy.

Mr Conlan, who was on the CRC's board of directors for nine years, will now avoid a grilling by politicians at the Public Accounts Committee meeting tomorrow.

His spokesman confirmed he would not be attending the committee meeting despite angry members calling for urgent answers about the controversy.

"He is no longer an officer of the CRC having resigned from his post. He has no information that is not known by the remaining officers and directors of the CRC," said his spokesman.

Mr Conlan had only been in the job for five months but announced his resignation yesterday, saying he was abroad on personal leave when the storm over top-up payments erupted.

"Within 24 hours of returning to Ireland I tendered my resignation with immediate effect," he said.

However, he did not elaborate on how much he knew about current or historic top-ups to senior managers at the CRC, despite his long tenure on the board.

Five top-ups and some private pension funds are still being paid from charity donations.

Money raised through the CRC's fundraising arm, the Friends and Supporters of the Central Remedial Clinic, went towards these top-ups, including an additional €136,000 for its former chief executive Paul Kiely, who was already on a state salary of €106,000.

In his statement, Mr Conlan (58) said: "I believe that it is in the best interests of the CRC clients and staff that the new chief executive should not have any association with legacy matters at the CRC.

"I was offered the position of chief executive in July following a selection process conducted by the board of the CRC with assistance from recruitment consultants Amrop Strategis.

"My salary as chief executive was within the guidelines provided by the HSE."

The former chief executive of the Mater Hospital added: "I had been in the position of chief executive of the CRC for a little over five months during which time my primary focus was on preparing the organisation for the anticipated bringing into force of the Charities Act legislation.

TRANSPARENCY

"I believe that there should be full transparency within the charitable sector with regard to how all funds raised, both private and public, are spent and that all executive remuneration should be within HSE guidelines.

"I hope that the CRC will now take the opportunity to start afresh with a clean slate so that the excellent service provided by its dedicated staff can continue to be made available to its clients who rely on it and who should not be the innocent victims of any fallout."

Earlier, the board of the CRC said it accepted his resignation and thanked him for his commitment and support.

As well as the appointment of Mr Nugent, Joan Hurley will take on the job of operations director in the day-to-day management of the clinic and will co-ordinate the senior management team.

The CRC was written to by the HSE over the summer about the appointment of a member of its board as chief executive. However, the Department of Public Expenditure said voluntary bodies were not subject to the code which makes it mandatory for civil servant jobs to be advertised.

The pressure on Mr Conlan to appear before the Public Accounts Committee intensified after Taoiseach Enda Kenny intervened in the controversy. Speaking at an awards ceremony in Longford, Mr Kenny said that he hoped Mr Conlan would be available "to explain the workings of CRC during his period of appointment as chief executive.

"Clearly the Government, through the Minister for Health, has requested a report on the top-up payments that were not authorised, nor validated by the Government, as part of the public payment process," he said.

Mr Kenny did not call on the CRC board to resign but said it was "not acceptable" for people to receive unauthorised or unapproved top-up payments in breach of the public service pay agreement.

He said he expected the Public Accounts Committee to have a "forthright engagement" with the CRC members who come before it.

Eilish O'Regan and Cormac McQuinn

Irish Independent

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