Pianist's €225,000 academy salary criticised in report


THE ACCLAIMED concert pianist John O’Conor received a salary package of €225,000 for part-time positions as director and teacher with the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

These payments – plus an additional €29,000 in expense payments – were described as “inappropriate in the context of public service norms and for the operation of a modern organisation” by the secretary general of the Department of Education, Brigid McManus, last year.

In September 2009, the department said it would “reconsider” the payment of some €4 million in State funding to the academy – unless the issues surrounding Mr O’Conor’s package were resolved.

Mr O’Conor, director of the academy since 1994, stepped down earlier this year. The governing body of the academy did not exercise its option of giving him a further two-year contract in 2009.

The pay package to Mr O’Conor is detailed in a highly critical report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) – the public spending watchdog – yesterday.

This outlines salary payments totalling €225,524 in 2008 for 34 weeks’ work.

This includes €138,072 as director – €49,872 in salary plus €88,200 in payment to his private pension.

In separate payments, he also received €65,254 for a part-time teaching post and €21,698 in payment for a piano workshop.

It also notes “there was no formal approval by the governing body” for payments to Mr O’Conor in relation to a seminar in 2008 where he was paid more than €21,000 including more than €11,500 in respect of handbook sales to participants.

On expense payments to Mr O’Conor, the C&AG notes that “invoices or receipts were not attached to the credit card memorandum” used to claim payments. In 2008, Mr O’Conor received more than €29,000 for hospitality, travel and other expenses.

Last night, Fine Gael spokesman on education Fergus O’Dowd called on Mr O’Conor to repay all money received which “appear to be in breach of public service guidelines”.

The Public Accounts Committee said it would be investigating payments at the academy and other spending highlighted in yesterday’s report. This included €800,000 in pension payments made without proper sanction to four staff in the Further Education and Training Awards Council.

The C&AG notes that Mr O’Conor was required to attend the academy for 34 full weeks per academic year with a holiday entitlement of 10 weeks.

Last night, the chairman of the academy, Dr Brian Aylward, said new governance procedures have been put in place since the weaknesses highlighted by the C&AG were identified. The current director works full-time and there is no separate contract for teaching, he said.

The C&AG suggests that as a body in receipt of substantial State funding, there is an expectation that expenditure by the Royal Irish Academy of Music “should be broadly in line with public sector norms and departures from public sector pay policy should be agreed with the relevant overseeing departments before entering contractual arrangements”.

Mr O’Conor, who is in the United States, could not be contacted by The Irish Timeslast night.

The co-founder of Dublin International Piano Competition, he holds honorary doctorates from Trinity College and the National University of Ireland. He is an officer of the French government’s Order of Arts and Letters. He has also been decorated by the Austrian, Italian and Polish governments.