Committee dances around the ballad of Jim and Bertie
Central Remedial Clinic acting chief executive Jim Nugent leaving Leinster House after giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Jim Nugent met Bertie Ahern in 1970 through the Federated Workers Union of Ireland. Jim was a negotiator with the union, recruited straight from university for the job. Bertie was a junior accounts clerk with the Dublin District Milk Board. They became friends through the branch committee.
“I made some friendships through the unions that have lasted throughout my political career” Bertie would later say in his autobiography.
Jim Nugent was one of them, and he would go on to tell the Mahon Tribunal that their friendship was the reason he gladly agreed to contribute £2,500 in cash to the infamous Bertie Ahern dig-out fund.
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In its findings, the tribunal did not accept that story about the dig-outs.
In the meantime, from those early days over forty years ago, both men – fellow Fianna Fail members - went on to greater things. By the time of the alleged dig-out contribution, Bertie was Minister for Finance and went on to become a long-serving Taoiseach.
Nugent’s star rose too. He was appointed Chairman of CERT, the tourism industry training body and was also appointed to the Board of the Central Bank.
What has this got to do with the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf, where its former CEO, Paul Kiely, once enjoyed a salary tipping towards a quarter of million euro thanks to a generous top-up from the organisation’s charity fund.
Well, nothing, as far as the witnesses from the CRC were concerned yesterday when they appeared before the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee.
They were asked to appear following revelations that the organisation used money collected for charitable purposes to “top-up” the salaries of executives.
It took all morning and well into the afternoon session for Shane Ross to ask the question a lot of people had been thinking about: is it purely coincidence that so many of the directors and people who have held positions of power in the CRC have close associations with the former taoiseach?
His query made people sit up and take notice.
He was thinking of the late Tony Kett and former Chairman, Des Peelo, Vincent Brady, who was a cabinet colleague of Ahern’s back in the day and of yesterday’s witnesses Paul Kiely and current CRC chairman Jim Nugent “who both received preferment under Mr Ahern’s government.”
But Daniel Martin, another director of the CRC, stressed that he has no politicial affiliation whatsoever and had seen no “scintilla” of evidence that there was no political influence in the running of the organisation.
Nugent pointed out that there are a large number of people on the board and he wouldn’t know what their politician affiliations are.
”I don’t get the purposes of the analysis.”
Ross explained there could be a concerns that “with loyalties to a political party you may possibly be in danger, or be vulnerable to the accusation that you give each other preferment or preferential treatment.”
This was robustly dismissed by the Nugent and Kiely, the former CEO who has resigned from the board.