Only 20% of Minister’s 311 board appointments used the public advertising process

Bill to stop payments to board members rejected by Government

Independent Mary Ann O’Brien said it is “worrying” that only one-fifth of the appointments by the Minister, whom she did not name, went through the Government’s “much heralded” public advertising process. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Independent Mary Ann O’Brien said it is “worrying” that only one-fifth of the appointments by the Minister, whom she did not name, went through the Government’s “much heralded” public advertising process. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 01:05

A Cabinet Minister who has appointed 311 people to State boards since the Government was formed in 2011 used the public advertising process in only 20 per cent of cases, the Seanad has heard.

Independent Mary Ann O’Brien said it is “worrying” that only one-fifth of the appointments by the Minister, whom she did not name, went through the Government’s “much heralded” public advertising process.

Ms O’Brien was speaking during a debate on legislation from Independent Feargal Quinn precluding those serving on a State board from payment. The Public Service Management (Transparency of Boards) Bill also provides that those appointed to a board could serve only if they filed a declaration with the Standards in Public Office Commission that only vouched expenses would be allowed and only when declared.

Mr Quinn said he drafted the Bill because of his concern “at the extent to which board membership of State bodies has become discredited and demeaned”. The Bill was about “recognising and safeguarding the role played by people appointed to serve on the boards of public bodies”, he said, noting that Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin had asked board members to voluntarily waive their fees.

The Government rejected the Bill because legislation to reform the Ethics in Public Office Act is pending. Minister of State Ciarán Cannon said fees had been reduced significantly, with payments averaging €18,788 for a chairperson and €10,421 for members.

Abolishing payments is “a major departure from current practice” and in the long-term it would not ensure boards were made up of suitably qualified people across diverse backgrounds, he said.

Ms O’Brien said media coverage of State board appointments was all about money – what people were paid and if a company they owned gave service to the board. “If those people had been paid nothing there would have been nothing for newspapers to write about.”

Labour’s Aideen Hayden said she was concerned by Mr Quinn’s Bill. She said she did not want a situation where the only people who could serve on State boards were retired, independently wealthy or former civil servants.

The Bill was in effect asking people on State boards to subsidise the State, she said, and it was a “fake virtue” to encourage people to step forward and not accept remuneration.

Fianna Fáil’s Paschal Mooney said there was an old saying, “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys”, and there had to be some sort of incentive for people. He said public perception that “politicians are somehow milking the system” had been there “since the year dot” and nothing would change that perception.