O'Rourke brushes off criticism over CIE resignation

 

The Minister for Public Enterprise, Ms O'Rourke, has denied she "interfered" in the day-today running of CIE and said she had no "notion of resigning".

She faced a barrage of Opposition criticism in the Dail following the resignation of the CIE chairman, Mr Brian Joyce.

Labour's public enterprise spokesman, Mr Emmet Stagg, described the Minister as "meddling and incompetent" and added that "when a third chairperson of a commercial semi-State company feels compelled to resign on her watch, arising from her meddling, then serious questions have to be asked about the management of her portfolio that will not be brushed over by her giggles or making light of the matter".

Mr Ivan Yates, Fine Gael's public enterprise spokesman, called on the Minister to apologise for her implication in a radio interview that Mr Joyce resigned because "he could not face the music about rail safety". Mr Yates said that was just a diversionary tactic.

Ms O'Rourke put it that rail safety was definitely not a diversionary tactic and added that she did not blame Mr Joyce for wanting to resign, but "I don't understand why he didn't come to me and say `I want to resign'."

Mr Stagg said that "mindless, stupid remarks" which sought to divert from the subject were not appropriate, but the Minister retorted that she found Mr Stagg's comments to be "mindless, stupid and remarkable".

She described Mr Joyce as an effective and excellent chairman and she was surprised to hear he had resigned. She said Mr Joyce had cited the need for the company to get on with the job free from ministerial interference. She said she had to draw a distinction between interference and "democratic stewardship".

Ms O'Rourke said the State-owned company received £350 million a year from the Exchequer. "I do not interfere in the day-to-day business of the company. However, I have a responsibility to ensure the company is pursuing policies which are aligned with the shareholder's interest, which in this case is the Irish taxpayer."

Mr Joyce had also referred to fares and public service contracts. She said she was the first minister to seek a fares increase since 1991, and while the company sought 10 per cent, she recommended 5 per cent, taking account of the interest of both the company and public transport users.

She had told Mr Joyce she was prepared to consider indexed fare increases linked to public service contracts which she negotiated, but was informed by the Attorney General she did not have the powers to enter into such a contract.

The chairman's concerns that Luas might divert costs from other projects were addressed in the National Development Plan, the Minister said, where resources had been separately allocated.

When the Fine Gael leader, Mr John Bruton, pressed the Minister as to whether she believed Mr Joyce resigned because of an "unwillingness on his part to face the music on rail safety", the Minister replied that her comments were being "twisted".

When Mr Stagg put it that CIE's morale would be greatly helped by her resignation, the Minister said she had no notion of resigning. She said Mr Joyce was an excellent and effective chairman. "The fact that Deputy Bruton's best, best friend appointed him does not matter to me. I am quite happy."

Mr Yates said Mr Joyce's resignation was the sixth by a senior executive in a semi-State company in the Minister's portfolio and represented a vote of no confidence in Ms O'Rourke. The Minister replied that in 1995 five or six people resigned and there were tribunals, which were "all related to the adventures and intrigues of Mr Bruton's best, best friend".

Mr Yates called again on the Minister to apologise to Mr Joyce, but she said he should apologise for the remarks he made on RTE radio about Mr Padraic White. Ms O'Rourke said Mr Yates said she was going to appoint Mr White, a "crony" of hers, as executive chairman. He was a highly esteemed public servant, the Minister insisted, but she had no plans to appoint him.