Thursday 21 March 2019

Climb every mountain, until you find your own quango

Eamon Dunphy says he would have ended up in jail if he didn't make the move to England
Eamon Dunphy says he would have ended up in jail if he didn't make the move to England

Shane Ross

My home telephone rang on Thursday evening. "Deputy," declared the voice, "I got you elected. Time you put me on a quango."

It was Eamon Dunphy.

"Whatever you want, Eamon!" I volunteered. "Pity I am not yet in power!"

"There are a few vacancies on the RTE Authority," said Dunphy. "How would I land one of them? Am I overqualified? Spent my life in the media?"

"Are you in Fine Gael this week Eamon?"

"No, but I was once - back in the Eighties. Will that do?"

"Are any of your family from Mayo? Why did you leave FG?"

"We had a bust-up. They had put me on the Sports Council - and I resigned!"

"Why did they put you on the Sports Council?"

"Because I was in Fine Gael, you moron. Did you think it was because I played soccer for Millwall and Ireland?"

"Eamon, funnily enough, there is a spare seat on the Sports Council today! Why don't you have a go?"

"Would I have to do an interview? Is the post being advertised? It never was, back in my earlier outing."

"No problem, Eamon. No interviews this time. Just a bit of blue blood would help. You have the FG pedigree. Why did you resign the last time?"

"It was a fiasco, deputy. The civil servants made all the decisions. We political nominees rubber-stamped them. So I exited. And anyway, Fianna Fail took power - my days were numbered. And by the way baby, I want to apologise. Can I apologise to the Irish people? Don't ask me for what. Like Enda, I just want to apologise. . ."

Nothing has changed at Eamon's old quango.

Last week at the Public Accounts Committee I asked the quango's boss, Irish Olympic hero John Treacy, how they allocated the grants down at the Sports Council.

It was all pretty simple, he explained. The Government gives them an initial policy direction for certain sports priorities.

The result: an allocation in 2012 of over €8m to the Football Association of Ireland (€2.8m), the GAA (€ 2.7m) and the IRFU (€2.5m). The Sports Council met the senior and junior sports ministers - up to recently Leo Varadkar and Mayo's Michael Ring - quarterly and implemented their directions for the policy priorities.

After that, two powerful board sub-committees decided the destination of the bulk of the remaining funds - subject to final board approval.

The two Sports Council sub-committees that sit in judgment over this €38m sports pot have an unenviable job. The biggest slice comes under the scrutiny of the National Governing Bodies (NGB) board sub-committee. It evaluates applications. Its recommendations go to the full board.

And who sits on this key sub-committee? Well, according to John Treacy, it is tight. It only has two members.

It is chaired by a man called Bernard Allen. And in case anyone is suffering from amnesia, Bernard Allen is a former Fine Gael TD, a loyal supporter of Enda Kenny who helped to save his bacon in the attempted leadership coup back in 2010.

Bernard was himself Sports Minister so is superbly qualified to sit on the Sports Council .

And who sits alongside the bold Bernard, wielding such influence over these coveted grants? An even better- known national hero, John Maughan.

As former Mayo Senior Football manager, John is well-qualified to make judgments on sporting grants. But he does have another advantage: he climbed Kilimanjaro with Enda Kenny back in 2003.

He also happens to be the Procurement Officer for none other than, er . . . Mayo County Council.

Mayo features rather a lot in the story of the Sports Council. Earlier this year, another Mayo man reached the top of this greasy grant-giving body. A guy called Patrick O'Connor was appointed to fill a casual vacancy until September. According to John Treacy, it is anticipated that he will shortly be reappointed.

O'Connor's credentials are impeccable. The Sports Council website lists him as a solicitor, coroner, arbitrator and notary public. He is vice chairman of the Press Council and a member of various professional bodies, including the Six Nations and IRFU disciplinary panels.

Funnily enough, the CV on the Council's website never mentions that Pat is from Mayo.

No sin in that. Even stranger is the more interesting omission of such a large part of Pat's life. A few years ago Pat fell on his sword for none other than the Fine Gael party in Mayo. Back in 2006, Pat selflessly withdrew from the contest to be a FG candidate when local sports superstar - former Mayo County manager John O'Mahony - declared his intention of running for the Dail.

According to the Mayo News, "the O'Connor name has been synonymous with Fine Gael in Mayo going back over four generations. Pat's own involvement spans over 35 years and he has served in numerous capacities during that time, including that of director of elections for Council, Dail and European elections."

Thank God he got onto the Sports Council.

The Mayo News revealed that Mr O'Connor had told them: "I have decided - now knowing that the best possible team is to be put into the election next year by Fine Gael led by Enda Kenny, Michael Ring and others - that it is in the best interests of Fine Gael and this county, and in the interests of County Mayo and Ireland in general that I make way on this occasion".

If the National Governing Bodies sub-committee of the Sports Council is looking for another independent, objective member to make it a threesome, maybe board member Pat O'Connor could volunteer?

Perhaps it is not surprising that O'Connor found himself in this pivotal position of approving grants.

The board vacancy was created by a man called Danny Owens, another fine person with sporting prowess.

Danny departed after only three years, although he had not blotted his copy book in any way. His credentials would be the envy of John McNulty, late of IMMA.

Danny was the winner of two All- Ireland medals, in 1981 and 1985. He is a board member of his county's Sports Partnership. Anything else?

What Danny Owens' biography in the 2012 annual report does not tell us is that he was not just a great sporting champion. Owens is not from Mayo. He is from Offaly. Ah!

He has a pedigree in Fianna Fail to match O'Connor's in Fine Gael. Today he is a Fianna Fail councillor. At the last general election he was director of elections in Brian Cowen's Tullamore patch. More questionable is the manner of his appointment. He received the Sports Council gig from outgoing sports minister Mary Hanafin - on Fianna Fail's last day in office. Earlier this year he was not reappointed.

New regime, new director.

During the latest quango fiasco that has damaged semi-states, state agencies and other abused bodies, Enda Kenny has repeatedly described the McNulty affair as a "lapse" or a drop in standards.

He is wrong. Standards have not dropped at all. They were always thus.

Back in the Eighties, Eamon Dunphy admits that his clinching qualification for the Sports Council was his support for Garret FitzGerald's Fine Gael. Today the Sports Council, the semi-states and even the judiciary are stuffed with Fine Gael and Labour loyalists.

Like Fianna Fail, Fine Gael has been using quangos to reward the tribe.

Dunphy prepared to put down the phone.

"Forget the RTE Authority, baby," he remarked with resignation. "If it means that I would have to spend an entire week climbing Kilimanjaro with Enda, I will pass."

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