Warning last year on food safety vacancies
Appointments:Minister for Health James Reilly was warned last November that his failure to appoint people to the board of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland was creating a “critical” situation that needed to be “urgently addressed”.
Documents released under Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation show that the Department of Health was advised about the need to fill board positions more than a year ago. Dr Reilly appointed a chairman and two board members last Friday.
At the height of the horse meat scandal last month it emerged that the authority had only three members on its 10-person board. The numbers had fallen to three in November which meant it did not have the required quorum to hold a board meeting.
The authority’s board is non-executive so is not involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation.
Documents show that board member Prof Albert Flynn wrote to Dr Reilly in August and November, urging him to fill the positions.
He pointed out the board had been without a chairman since March and said the board was “seriously concerned at the continuing failure to make these appointments as it raises serious governance issues . . .”
He said the board was particularly concerned about the agency’s audit committee. It was not operating in accordance with the board of practice for the governance of State bodies because of the unfilled positions.
In November he warned that the board was about to lose its quorum and said the audit committee would be unable to function “and governance arrangements will have collapsed”.
Prof Flynn wrote: “A collapse of governance arrangements would bring FSAI into unchartered territory – with possible implications for the enforcement activities of the authority. Consequently, a situation which until now has been serious is about to become critical and needs to be urgently addressed.”
‘Far from optimal’
Concerns about corporate governance were also expressed by the authority’s chief executive Prof Alan Reilly, when The Irish Times raised the issue last month.
He described the situation as “far from optimal” and said the authority needed a board to ensure good corporate governance.
“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,” he said.
On Friday Dr Reilly appointed Prof Michael Gibney of UCD’s Institute of Food and Health as the authority’s new chairman.
He also appointed Raymond O’Rourke, a food regulatory and consumer affairs lawyer, to the board, and reappointed Prof Charles Daly, emeritus professor of food science and technology at UCC.
They join Prof Flynn of UCC’s school of food and nutritional sciences, Miriam Cashell, a HSE principal environmental health officer, and Pat O’Mahony of the Irish Medicines Board.
Also last month it emerged that Dr Reilly left four positions on the board of the Health Information and Quality Authority unfilled for seven months.