Sunday 25 February 2018

HRI chair 'would do it again' over Kavanagh

Three Stars ridden by Ruby Walsh races clear of the last on the way to winning the novice chase at Punchestown Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Three Stars ridden by Ruby Walsh races clear of the last on the way to winning the novice chase at Punchestown Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Johnny Ward

The aftermath of yesterday's Horse Racing Ireland board meeting with the Agriculture Committee befitted the tragi-comic nature of the two and a half hours that preceded it.

The meeting over, committee members made their way to HRI's designated speakers for handshakes and a chat. HRI's board members, in particular Meta Osborne, John Moloney and chairman Joe Keeling, seemed to embody relief; the mood among them was said to be buoyant afterwards.

Serious questions were asked over the background of Brian Kavanagh's third term, which runs contrary to government guidelines on semi-state CEOs.

However, the nature of such Dail sub-committee gatherings allows questions to be answered selectively, and some of the time was taken up by issues with no relevance to the matter at hand.

Indeed, Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill, director of Thurles dog track, inspired a tangent on the troubling state of on-course bookmakers. This helped the HRI members to wind down the clock.

Keeling's sidestepping of the board in his lobbying has been well publicised. Incredulity met his response to as to whether he'd do all it again.

Keeling had said that the appointment process "could have been done better" but "no wrongdoings" had taken place; nor had he "misrepresented the views of the board" in his dealings with the Department of Agriculture.

"It was my decision and my judgement, I took the view that Brian was the best person for the job," said Keeling, who was lobbying the Department over a year before any board discussion had taken place on the matter of the CEO's third term.

"The biggest issue. . . was getting permission from the Ministers," he added.

"I had unofficial meetings with them. I was reflecting the informal board decision. . . I thought there was no point in going to the board. Would I have acted differently if I had to do it over again? I don't think so."

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly compared Kavanagh's 19-year term to practices in North Korea.

Osborne, a member of the HRI remuneration committee, said they were given two legal opinions which warned that Kavanagh "potentially" had a Contract of Indeterminate Duration (CID).

Fine Gael TD Michael D'Arcy said that in practice once a fixed-term contract was not finalised or renewed it automatically became a permanent contract with strong legal stipulations.

None of the three board members yesterday could say when this contractual change had occured.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Martin Kenny said: "I am very surprised at Meta Osborne's response that all the members of the board are properly constituted. My understanding is (they are not)."

Daly called it a "debacle" and questioned whether HRI understood the seriousness of its predicament. "You've said here that the succession plan was Brian Kavanagh. That was unlawful; there are reasons why state bodies are governed in this way," she told the HRI's members.

Committee chairman, TD Pat Deering, said that an independent value-for-money review of HRI would take place and he committed to a review into its corporate governance.

Keeling, whose position is voluntary, is set to continue as HRI chairman. One of the TDs who probed HRI was overheard to have said in relation to the controversy afterwards: "That's the end of all that anyway."

Meanwhile, 11 runners have been declared for tomorrow's Champion Stakes at Ascot, including Irish Champion Stakes winner Almanzor, Prix de l'Arc heroine Found and Fascinating Rock.

Irish Independent

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