Board appointees lacked marine links

Varadkar defends his appointments on grounds of avoiding conflict of interest

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has defended his decision to appoint three people without any seagoing experience to the Marine Casualty Investigation Board during his term as transport minister.

One of the three ministerial nominees, Co Roscommon fire station manager Micheál Frain has publicly stated Fine Gael and Labour Party affiliations.

By selecting people without marine expertise, Mr Varadkar was ensuring that there could be “no conflict of interest”, his spokesman said.

The part-time board, which handles investigations carried out by contracted experts into marine casualties, has had only one member with direct marine expertise for the past year to assess such reports.

Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív has said it is “unsatisfactory” in the context of the work of this board.

Created in 2002

The investigation board was established by former marine minister Frank Fahey in 2002. It comprises three people appointed by the Minister for Transport, along with the State’s chief surveyor and the department’s secretary general or nominee.

The board’s chairwoman, barrister Cliona Cassidy, was appointed by Mr Varadkar in January 2013 to succeed barrister John O’Donnell, who had been nominated by Mr Fahey.

Mr Varadkar appointed Kilkenny accountant Brian Keane in February 2013. Mr Frain, who is fire station manager in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, was appointed in July of last year.

The secretary general’s nominee is Jurgen Whyte, chief inspector with the Air Accident Investigation Unit.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said Ms Cassidy and Mr Keane were appointed after they submitted their CVs to his department. Mr Frain was selected for his expertise in “emergency management”.

The spokesman said the new board members were not announced at the time as Mr Varadkar had made many such appointments when in office, and some 55 per cent of his State board appointments were through public applications.

Ms Cassidy, who worked as an executive with the British Potato Council before becoming a barrister, has a civil law practice based in Dublin and has lectured at University College Dublin and King’s Inns.

No conflict

Appearing before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on January 23rd, 2013, Ms Cassidy said she had no connection with the marine industry, and was therefore “unlikely to be conflicted in any situation”.

Ms Cassidy declined to comment when asked by The Irish Times about any political affiliations she might have and said that all such queries should be directed towards the Department of Transport, which also declined to comment.

Mr Keane said he was not a member of any political party and was appointed for his relevant experience.

Mr Frain, a business owner and community activist, ran for Fine Gael in the 2009 local elections and for the Labour Party in the Boyle electoral area in the local elections this year. He was unavailable for comment.