Ex-Coillte CEO entitled to €299,000 in bonuses, judge rules

High Court finds David Gunning was entitled to payments, plus interest and legal costs

The former chief executive of Coillte is entitled to performance-related bonus payments totalling €299,000, the President of the High Court has ruled.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said David Gunning, who was chief executive of the State forestry body for seven years, was entitled to the payments, plus 2 per cent interest and his legal costs.

Mr Gunning (54), Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin, was chief executive at Coillte from 2006 to 2013 on a starting salary of €200,000 which rose to more than €300,000.

Mr Justice Kearns gave his ruling after hearing legal submissions from both sides after the opening of the case and will give written reasons for his decision later.

Earlier, John Rogers SC, for Mr Gunning, said his client had turned Coillte around despite the economic downturn and was entitled to his performance related pay.

Mr Gunning, along with the Coillte chairman, had opened up new markets in the UK and the company made profits despite the downturn in the economy, counsel said. “He is entitled to his performance related bonus payments.”

Mr Gunning had claimed that, under the performance scheme, he was entitled to be paid a bonus in two parts. He claimed he was entitled to an annual part based on his own performance and that of the company. He also claimed he was entitled to a bonus on a three-year basis relating to the three-year performance of both the chief executive and company.

He claimed he was entitled to €53,435 in 2008 but had waived his entitlement to an annual bonus in 2009 and 2010. Mr Gunning claimed he was entitled to some €70,000 in 2011 and over €68,000 in 2012.

In respect of the three yearly payments to which he also alleged he was entitled, Mr Gunning assessed he was entitled to some €31,000 in 2008; €28,000 in 2009 and 2010; €24,964 in 2011 and some €26,000 in 2012. He said he did not waive his entitlement to any of these payments and Coillte had not paid them.

He also claimed he was entitled to both an annual, and a three-year based bonus relating to that part of 2013 in which he worked for Coillte. He estimated those payments at some €18,000.

On June 23rd, 2009, the then Minister for Agriculture had acknowledged in writing there was no legal basis for him as Minister to request or insist that bonus payments be withheld, Mr Gunning claimed.

It was also alleged the Minister had in 2011 repeated there was no legal basis for him as Minister to demand the bonus should not be paid.

In a letter of April 15th, 2013, he was advised the Coillte Board had decided not to make any payments to him, Mr Gunning said. The failure to pay was in breach of contract, he alleged.

In its defence, Coillte claimed Mr Gunning was entitled to the sums claimed by way of performance-related pay up until April 8th 2013 but it claimed he was not entitled to it after that.

Coillte claimed Mr Gunning was not entitled to the payments sought by him arising from an April 8th 2013 directive to the company from the Minister for Agriculture under the Forestry Act. That Act compelled Coillte to comply with directives given in relation to Mr Gunning’s remuneration, it said.

Coillte also contended it is required to have regard to government or nationally agreed guidelines or to government policy concerning remuneration.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times