Food safety board cannot meet as positions left unfilled
Seven positions on the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s board remain unfilled, as the State body deals with one of its biggest food-related crises in years.
Minister for Health James Reilly has left the positions vacant for almost a year, despite receiving 25 applications from members of the public for the posts.
Since November there have been just three members on the 10-person board. A board meeting cannot be held unless four members of the board are present.
Its chief executive Prof Alan Reilly described the situation as “far from optimal” and said the authority needed a board to ensure good corporate governance.
The authority published a study last week which found the presence of horse DNA in 10 beef burger samples, one of which contained 29 per cent horse DNA relative to beef content. The ABP Food Group confirmed yesterday that it plans to destroy the 10 million burgers it withdrew from supermarkets after the presence of horse meat was revealed.
Earlier this month it emerged that Dr Reilly left four positions on the board of the Health Information and Quality Authority unfilled for seven months despite warnings from officials about the dangers of leaving the posts vacant.
Vacancies have also been left for long periods on the boards of other bodies under his remit. Some sources have asked if failing to fill vacancies on boards is a deliberate policy, in keeping with the public service reform plan drawn up by the Department of Public Expenditure.
It suggests that agency boards should be scrapped and their managers made directly accountable to their Minister. A spokesman for the Minister said the positions on the authority’s board had been advertised publicly in accordance with the Government decision on appointments of State boards. “They were advertised in February 2012 by the Public Appointments Service. There were a total of 25 applicants for board membership, five of whom also applied for the post of chairperson,” he said.
No positions have been filled on the board of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland since Dr Reilly took office.
Asked when the positions would be filled, Dr Reilly’s spokesman said: “The Minister is currently giving consideration to the filling of these vacancies.”
‘We need a board’
Prof Reilly confirmed that there had been just three members on the board since November.
“It is far from optimal from a corporate governance perspective,” he said.
“We put a lot of emphasis on corporate governance for State agencies and a board is essential for good corporate governance. We need a board.”
The board members are Miriam Cashell, a HSE principal environmental health officer, Prof Albert Flynn of UCC’s school of food and nutritional sciences and Pat O’Mahony of the Irish Medicines Board. Although the FSAI website lists Prof Reilly as a member, he said he was not on the board.
The authority’s board is non-executive ie not involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation.
Asked if the lack of a board had hampered its work since the burger crisis emerged last week, Prof Reilly said: “I have been in telephone contact with the remaining three members of the board and I have kept them fully briefed on developments”.