Department raised concerns about funding ‘Brexit hub’

Top official queried public benefits of €250,000 a year spend on think tank’s forum

Last year the Dublin institute lobbied the department for funding to set up a forum for sharing information and planning strategies to deal with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.  Photograph: Brian O’Leary/RollingNews.ie

Last year the Dublin institute lobbied the department for funding to set up a forum for sharing information and planning strategies to deal with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Photograph: Brian O’Leary/RollingNews.ie

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The Department of Foreign Affairs expressed reservations about a proposal from the Institute of International and European Affairs think tank to set up a “Brexit hub” with public money.

Last year the Dublin institute lobbied the department for funding to set up a forum for sharing information and planning strategies to deal with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act showed the department raised concerns about whether the €250,000 a year sought in funding for three years for the hub was good value for the public given that government departments fulfilled part of the role proposed for the hub.

Private companies

In a letter dated March 23rd, 2017, Rory Montgomery, a second secretary general at the department, told Ruairí Quinn, the chairman of the IIEA, that his principal concern was with the concept of the hub itself in providing advice to private companies about the Brexit process.

“I appreciate that such a service could be valuable and it would also presumably assist the IIEA in generating additional revenues from corporate sources, which you have explained to me is under way,” wrote Mr Montgomery, who is the department’s lead official in Brexit negotiations.

“However, I am not sure that the public benefits would be great. This department and the Department of the Taoiseach, and all relevant line departments, respond openly and regularly to requests for briefings and discussion from representative bodies and individual organisations.”

He suggested that the hub might instead “largely be funded by its intended beneficiaries”. Mr Montgomery described the financial aspects of the proposal as “generic and imprecise” and requested “a more detailed and adequately-costed plan” including estimates for staffing, accommodation, the cost of visiting speakers and publications.

‘Special circumstances’

In a follow-up letter to Mr Montgomery dated April 5th, 2017, Mr Quinn pushed the case for financial support, declaring Brexit to be “the greatest existential threat Ireland has faced in peacetime” and his belief that the hub would “contribute to overcoming it successfully.”

The former Labour Party leader talked up the IIEA’s track record of being a forum for well-informed and wide-ranging discussion and in delivering high-calibre and independent research. “The special circumstances of Brexit justify the intensification of our activity represented by the hub,” he wrote.

Ms Deasy told The Irish Times Government funding did not proceed as the institute was able to secure funding from its members.

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