Irish Rail chairman criticises fishing event sponsorship as ‘own goal’

Frank Allen would prefer not to defend sum spent due to firm’s stated lack of resources

Irish Rail sponsorship was criticised in light of deferred  maintenance of tracks due to a lack of resources and fact workers had not had a pay rise for 10 years.   Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Irish Rail sponsorship was criticised in light of deferred maintenance of tracks due to a lack of resources and fact workers had not had a pay rise for 10 years. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The chairman of Irish Rail has criticised the controversial €20,000 sponsorship by the cash-strapped company of an angling event in Northern Ireland for international railway staff.

In an email to fellow directors, Frank Allen described the sponsorship as “an own goal” and said he would have preferred not to have had to defend it publicly to the Oireachtas transport committee.

Members of the Oireachtas committee had strongly criticised the €20,000 sponsorship by Irish Rail of the angling event in Co Fermanagh.

Robert Troy of Fianna Fáil said it was undertaken by a rail company that had had to defer maintenance of its tracks due to a lack of resources. Other members maintained Irish Rail workers had not had a pay rise for 10 years.

Mr Allen told the committee the company had provided “some sponsorship for an angling competition that brought together railway workers and experts from various parts of Europe”.

He said he did not know about the event in advance, but that opportunities for people in the railway to get to know and learn from the experiences of other European railways had value.

“Iarnród Éireann’s participation in professional networks, whereby our rail staff engage with, get to know and learn from the experiences of staff in railways across Europe, is a good thing,” he said.

‘Social activities’

“Sometimes that involves more informal social activities. I believe approximately €20,000 was Iarnród Éireann’s contribution to the sponsorship of this event. It goes to various countries around Europe. I do not know how often it comes to Ireland. It was a very long time ago. On the question whether I believe in building networks through which Iarnród Éireann staff can learn from experience elsewhere, I do not have a difficulty with that. ”

Following the meeting of the Oireachtas committee, which took place on October 25th, Mr Allen sent an email to other members of the Irish Rail board in which he effectively set out a summary of the issues raised.

“There was severe criticism from several members, including the chairman, about the company sponsoring an angling event in Northern Ireland, considering the straitened financial circumstances. This was an own goal that I would prefer not to have to defend,” he said in the email to company directors, which was also copied to senior management.

Irish Rail said the angling event was one which brought together staff from 10 national railway companies. It said it was the only such event organised by the International Railway Sports Association which Irish Rail had committed to hosting.

Timing ‘regretted’

Irish Rail said Mr Allen “supports the benefit which can accrue from being involved in events in which railway staff engage in an informal setting”.

“However, he regretted that the timing of support for this particular event detracted from the major strategic issues, challenges and opportunities facing Iarnród Éireann which he wished to highlight to the committee, as set out in his opening statement.”

In his opening statement to the Oireachtas committee, on October 25th, Mr Allen said a recent rail review had found that because of deferred maintenance during the recession, the organisation “would really need to spend another increment of €103 million per annum for five years to catch up” and to make sure it could “continue to provide competitive journey times, that we restore the balance sheet of the company and are ready for future growth”.