Sunday 25 August 2019

Horse racing boss wrote email asking for two years' pay after contract ends

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh. Photo: Adrian Melia
Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh. Photo: Adrian Melia
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Horse Racing Ireland's embattled chief executive has tried to secure an extra two years' salary to be paid when his controversial new contract ends.

Brian Kavanagh, who has served as HRI's CEO since 2001 despite government guidelines stating he could only serve a single seven-year term, compared the completion of his contract to voluntary redundancy.

Before he signed it in September, Mr Kavanagh met with HRI chairman Joe Keeling to express his concern that the new contract would see him continue in his role only until 2021 after government officials said they were unhappy with the length of his tenure.

He asked HRI to consent to his retirement two years early so he could avail of his pension benefits. He also asked it to pay for him to do a course at UCD.

In an email to HRI's human resources department, Mr Kavanagh also asked to be compensated for lost earnings during the two years between leaving HRI in 2021 and his 60th birthday - his normal retirement date as per HRI pension rules.

"If somebody with the same service were accepted for the voluntary redundancy scheme, they would receive two years' salary. I would be grateful if you could raise these points with the remuneration committee," he wrote.

HRI's remunerations committee said it was willing to fund further education opportunities for the CEO but it could not commit to granting Mr Kavanagh early retirement or any proposed payment at the end of his contract. It did suggest revisiting both issues later.

Mr Kavanagh signed his new five-year contract in September. Mr Keeling apologised to the Dáil's agriculture committee for his role in "mishandling" the reappointment after failing to keep HRI's board informed and lobbying Ministers Michael Creed and Paschal Donohoe. Mr Kavanagh's €190,773 salary is more than €26,000 above the specified range for his position.

Documents seen by the Irish Independent show that he took issue with the terms of his contract shortly after signing it in 2001 and the saga has rumbled on since.

A letter offering Mr Kavanagh the job in 2001 shows he was made aware he must "serve for a period not longer than seven years" unless there were exceptional circumstances.

HRI repeatedly lobbied government to see Mr Kavanagh reappointed and, as early as 2003, was trying to get around the seven-year limit for CEOs.

Mr Kavanagh played a significant role in his reappointments in 2009 and 2016 by drafting letters to officials for the chairman and his own contracts before seeking approval.

HRI chief financial officer Margaret Davin mocked the Department of Agriculture for forwarding guidelines for contract terms and conditions.

"Is that her [a department official] reminding us yet again that we must comply with the code?" Ms Davin wrote to a colleague. "When does it end with these people [sic] - it's like going into school each morning and quoting 'I must apply the code, I must apply the code'. Possibly we should all learn it off like the Our Father."

Irish Independent

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