Cardiff rejected for EU post


Department of Finance secretary general Kevin Cardiff has been rejected for the nomination for Ireland's seat in the European Court of Auditors, by a budgetary committee of the European Parliament.

Mr Cardiff was questioned by MEPs in Brussels today as they scrutinised his nomination. The committee decided to reject his nomination by 12 votes to 11.

The post in the Luxembourg-based court, which oversees the EU’s accounts, carries an annual remuneration package worth about €276,000.

The hearing came in the wake of criticism within the Government parties of Mr Cardiff’s nomination after the discovery that the department had mistakenly overstated the national debt by €3.6 billion.

Mr Cardiff today denied money had been lost. He also insisted the mistake would not happen again.

“I’d like to be very clear about this, there will be people in Ireland no doubt looking at this - we have not lost anybody’s cash,” he said.

“No money has gone missing. What happened was that a recording of a transaction was done by two bodies.”

MEPs said they had received an "unprecedented amount" of emails lobbying on Mr Cardiff's behalf.

German MEP Ingeborg Grassle claimed that the amount of emails from Ireland lobbying over Mr Cardiff’s nomination had never been seen before.

Mr Cardiff said an internal and external review had been launched into why the accounting blunder misreported Ireland’s debt.

The National Treasury Management Agency flagged up the error several times in 2010 and contacted the Department of Finance asking for guidance on how it should be dealt with.

Mr Cardiff said he was not being coy but declined to name anyone he believed to be personally responsible for the double-count of borrowings.

“I’m happy that the mistake will never happen again but what worries me is what other mistakes can happen - that’s my job as an accounting officer,” he told MEPs, adding said careers would be on the line if he singled anyone out. He previously blamed human error.

Mr Cardiff had also been criticised after claiming the auditing job would be a “doddle”.

He attempted to clarify the description by claiming he had worked through four years of turmoil and tough decision making in the Department of Finance in Dublin on the back of one of the worst banking collapses on record.

“By comparison to the four years of sheer battling, the nights in which you wake up wondering if you made a mistake that would cost a billion or would make a billion. . . . I thought it would be easier,” he said. “I certainly was not suggesting that the job of the Court of Auditors would be easy.”

Mr Cardiff was one of a small number of senior civil servants present on the night of September 30th 2008 when the bank guarantee was introduced.

The career civil servant said he gave his personal opinions that night.

Labour MEPs Nessa Childers and Phil Prendergast and Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly have questioned Mr Cardiff’s nomination. Ms Childers tweeted this evening that there was "total shock" at the result of the committee's deliberations and that almost nobody had expected it.

UK Independence Party MEP Marta Andreasen, who is on the committee, had earlier called for his appointment to be withdrawn.

Mrs Andreasen, who said she was not at today’s vote of the Budgetary Control Committee due to a "pressing and serious family matter", said: “I was not holding my breath about my colleagues rejecting Ireland’s nominee for the European Court of Auditors. But I am glad that common sense ultimately prevailed.

“The evidence was self-explanatory: Mr. Cardiff, whilst in charge of the Irish finance ministry oversaw a €3.6 billion accounting error.

"This is not pennies we are talking about here. If his department’s mistake had not been spotted, Ireland’s debt would have been incorrectly reported, putting the country under greater banking and market pressure."

She said Mr Cardiff’s reward for this "blunder" would have been a six-figure salary in an EU institution tasked with ensuring the financial probity of the multi-billion euro EU budget. "It would have been a farcical appointment."

“An auditor’s credentials must be beyond doubt. The political pressure and interference exerted to ensure his appointment means that had he been given the job any integrity the Court of Auditors had would have laid in tatters," Mrs Andreasen said.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had said that of all the people nominated to serve on the couirt of auditors over the years by Ireland, Kevin Cardiff was the most qualified for the job.

The committee made the decision after it went into private session after the hearing.