Oh, what a twisted web we weave . . .

No crock at the end of the rainbow, but there was a crock of something else found

The committee heard detail of the package from the Health Service Executive (HSE) today and also questioned Brian Conlan, who took over as chief executive of the CRC after Mr Kiely’s departure.

Fri, Jan 17, 2014, 12:28

And then the chairman clicked his heels and we all woke up in Kansas – except this wasn’t somewhere over the rainbow, even if it felt like it at times.

We were in the real world, where rainbows do exist and, for the lucky ones in the loop, there really is a crock of gold at the end of that rainbow. But what the Public Accounts Committee found was a steaming crock of something else.

It was the astounding story of the cosseted CRC officer class that commanded most attention yesterday. On its own, it stands out as a stunning example of that certain breed of senior executives in Ireland who move through the world swaddled in the sense of their undoubted entitlement.

That’s bad enough.

But what is worse – after two days of hearings involving a procession of management bigwigs from a number of organisations – is the depressing feeling that the carry-on at the CRC is not an aberration in the top echelons.

Through the thick pall of management jargon that has settled upon the committee rooms since Wednesday, we have seen a cohort of people who have a great welcome for themselves. They talk like men who have learned their patter from the Top Gear school of macho management guff.

High performance utility models . . . key motivators driving the core engine . . . bonus payment models . . . absolutely outstanding performers . . . delivering on service . . . importing synergies.

And our runaway favourite, from Prof Noel Whelan of St Vincent’s hospital yesterday: “We are going to swing around into compliance.”

That got a laugh.

But back to the CRC, where former chief executive Brian Conlan – only in the job for four months before he stepped down, but eight years on the board – rapidly overheated and suffered an engine blow-up within minutes of being questioned by TDs about the organisation’s “dodgy” accounting practices.

He was up on blocks for the rest of his time before the committee – a rather pathetic sight. His evidence was mortifyingly awful as he tried and spectacularly failed to give a credible account of his time with the organisation.

At least that was the overwhelming opinion of the committee.

The members gutted him.

He is a former chief executive of the Mater hospital. One can only hope he was more clued-in during that particular tour of duty, because he confessed to not having a notion of what was going on under his nose at the CRC in Clontarf.

Why? Because, like Bo Peep, Brian had lost his feet and didn’t know where to find them. This was his explanation for not noticing that the organisation had a €700,000 “donation” on its draft account which was nothing of the sort.

“Lots of things were happening. I was finding my feet.”

Somebody should have told him they’re just below his knees, attached to his ankles.

That money, half of all the charitable donations for the cash-strapped services that the CRC provides to children and adults with physical disabilities, was used to give an enor- mous goodbye payment to chief executive Paul Kiely when he retired.

Oh, and the same Paul Kiely misremembered the full amount of the good fortune visited upon him thanks to the volunteers who sold Santa Bears and stood out in the cold rattling collection boxes. He only let on about half the amount of money he received.

Unfortunately, Conlan knew nothing about it. “I’m as surprised as anybody here today,” he declared yesterday.

Meanwhile, there was the question of how he actually got the chief executive’s job.

Conlan was on the subcommittee to find a replacement for Kiely. At that time, he said he had no interest in the job and had attended a meeting with recruitment agency MERC with a view to recruiting someone. (As it turned out, the company was not involved in the actual selection process). 

According to MERC’s website, it is “Ireland’s leading executive resourcing firm specialising in the recruitment, assessment and development of senior business leaders”.

Anyway, as it turned out, the CRC had a “senior business leader” among its ranks. Brian Conlan threw his hat in the ring only when he saw the “job specification”.

Conlan was at the meeting which led to his appointment but he sat back in his chair and said nothing.

At this point, the celebrated incident of Michael Wall came to mind. He was at a function in Liverpool when Bertie Ahern was surprised with a gift of a large envelope stuffed with cash, but Bertie didn’t deem Michael to have been present because “he didn’t eat the dinner”.

Rather like Brian Conlan at the meeting to seal his appointment. “I was physically there, but I didn’t partake.”

He probably spent the time trying to find his feet. Honest to God, you’d wonder if some of these senior business leaders could be trusted to hit their backsides with a tennis racket.

Conlan, when asked if he should apologise for what went on at the CRC, replied weakly: “If I have done anything wrong, I certainly will apologise.”

But in his view, “I did my level best to spread myself as much as I could.”

The committee’s verdict on the day?

“Pure dynamite,” exhaled Kieran O’Donnell.

“Gobsmacked,” squeaked Shane Ross.

“Deception,” thundered John Deasy, speaking of a “twisted web”.

Is there anything to be said for another tribunal?

I’ll get me coat.

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