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Woman who revealed Fas golden handshake

SHE is the woman who spent nine months uncovering one of the biggest news stories of the year, but for pensions legislation expert Catriona Ceitin the golden handshake pension deal for former Fas boss Rody Molloy began merely as a mild curiosity that needed investigating.

"I remember reading the initial story last year about the Fas scandal in the Sunday Independent and then listening to Rody Molloy on Pat Kenny. When I heard it and the news about how much he was getting on stepping down from the top job, it struck me that the details didn't make sense. I was intrigued and began looking into it," she said.

Speaking for the first time about how she uncovered Mr Molloy's "exceptional" pension top-up, Catriona said she was astounded at the lack of understanding in the media and in politics as to how the deal was done, and how it was allowed to go unchallenged for more than nine months.

Catriona believes, based on her research, the Molloy deal breaches existing legislation. "I studied all the legislation and I tracked all the statements various Government ministers have made on the matter. They don't add up, they are deliberately trying to confuse the matter -- and, what is more, most of the journalists don't understand what is being said, so they are not asking the questions," she said.

She began by conducting an exhaustive search through all public statements on Mr Molloy's exit and package, and the relevant legislation.

"I went through the Labour Services Act, which is the one that governs Fas, and also the Superannuation and Pensions Act. Both give no provision to top up a pension in the case of someone resigning from their post. The Molloy deal broke the rules."

When Mr Molloy and Peter McLoone of Fas appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Catriona studied and analysed their comments and phrases very closely. Again she was astounded that politicians didn't realise the significance of what was being said.

After the PAC, Catriona concluded that Rody Molloy had been given an extraordinary top-up on his pension despite resigning in disgrace (which is in breach of guidelines and legislation); that a senior minister personally intervened to award the top-up; and she calculated that, given that he was only 55, Mr Molloy's pension pay-off was worth in excess of €1m.

Catriona began raising the issue with politicians and senior journalists, but got little or no reaction from them.

"I contacted over a dozen politicians and a number of journalists to see if they would be interested in the story. I got no reply from the politicians, and a number of eminent journalists said what I had was interesting but they never did anything with it."

She received a lukewarm reaction from the Labour Party's Roisin Shortall and Senator Dominic Hannigan, but things moved very slowly.

Catriona then rang me. Once she explained the Molloy pension deal, I put a number of questions to various government departments and began confirming the details that Catriona had presented. We then worked on calculating the total value of the pension to Mr Molloy. We then had that €1.4m figure verified by a second pensions expert.

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On September 13, I wrote the initial Rody Molloy story under the heading "Disgraced Fas chief's €1.4m pension hike -- Ministers Coughlan and Lenihan blame each other for cash boost".

In the wake of the story, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan attempted to cast aspersions on our calculations and the value of the top-up. The Tanaiste defended the deal by saying the political need to get change at the top of Fas outweighed all other considerations.

However, the situation was about to change rapidly, On foot of our story, the PAC convened to discuss the top-up. Despite Minister Coughlan's comments, our calculations were verified.

"They estimated the value of €1.1m, but the only difference in our figure was that I took account of natural inflation, which they didn't. But it is very different to what was being said the weekend the story broke," Catriona said.

Then came the revelation that Molloy's predecessor in Fas, and current CIE chairman Dr John Lynch, got several pension top-ups which mean his pension relating to his work in the public sector is now based on 40 years' service despite his working just 17.

Dr Lynch said he gets paid €357,000 for his role as chairman but the value of his pension, thought be €100,000 a year , is deducted from that.

Since then Catriona has met with senior figures within Labour and Fine Gael, including Leo Varadkar, who have taken up her investigations. Last weekend, following a meeting with her, Mr Varadkar spoke out, calling the Molloy deal "unlawful".

"I couldn't believe that the story got as big as it did. I'm just glad that, as a result of my work, people are now asking these questions of what is really happening to all the top guys. I'm just amazed that no one else did this before me. It was just me at home with my laptop. I'm happy this has all come out," said Catriona.

Unlike others who seek glory for themselves, Catriona can genuinely say she has done her State some service.

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