Wednesday 23 October 2019

Fearghal O'Connor: 'Port managers missing the point on transparency'


Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O'Reilly. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Fearghal O'Connor

Revelations about credit card spending at Dublin Port Company have caused a huge reaction.

That the chief executive of a semi-state organisation spent €95,000 on a company credit card in just one year - including on business-class travel - has led to a storm of criticism from the public.

Other managers spent tens of thousands of euro entertaining clients and staff, pushing the total credit card bill for just four senior managers in 2018 to €268,000.

The public now wants to know exactly why this spending was necessary, and whether it is constant, or an aberration.

This story was published because of a clear public interest in understanding spending at a state-owned company ultimately answerable to the taxpayer - but which is not subject to Freedom of Information.

The response of the company since the story was published has been to point to its large profits and turnover. It has argued about the definition of the garden, pointing out it is part of a greater project.

The company is correct to say no allegation of wrongdoing has been made.

But it has missed the point: taxpayers have a right to understand this type of spending by semi-state employees if there is even a hint that it is routinely excessive or wasteful.

Now port management is focused on launching an internal probe over what it claims to be leaks. What a bemused public really wants is for management to focus on providing open, transparent, detailed and itemised information about credit card spending of senior managers over recent years.

The public will make up its own mind about whether the spending details it now sees before it are excessive or appropriate for the custodians of a vital State asset.

Rather than chasing shadows with an internal probe which will undoubtedly cost even more money, port management can opt for full transparency.

They might explain in itemised detail, line by line, exactly how, for example, international travel is "based on demonstrable business need" and why corporate hospitality is "an essential part of Dublin Port's business strategy".

An Oireachtas committee would no doubt be very willing to facilitate this type of openness.

Irish Independent

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