Horse Racing Ireland lobbied on service rule for chief executive

Brian Kavanagh reappointed for third term to €247,000 position despite seven-year limit

Then Horse Racing Ireland chairman Denis Brosnan (left) and chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

Then Horse Racing Ireland chairman Denis Brosnan (left) and chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

 

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) lobbied government departments to bend rules governing the length of service of its chief executive Brian Kavanagh for more than a decade, new documents reveal.

The semi-State agency came in for criticism earlier this year when it reappointed Mr Kavanagh for a third term in the position despite of guidelines stipulating that chief executives should be limited to a single term of seven years.

Correspondence released by HRI under Freedom of Information legislation reveals a long-running dispute between the organisation and various government departments over Mr Kavanagh’s length of service.

Documents show then HRI chairman Denis Brosnan made attempts to circumvent the seven-year service limit from as early as 2003, two years into Mr Kavanagh’s first contract, saying in a letter to the Department of Sport that his was a “special case” due to the experience he brought to the role.

Although official guidelines did and still do allow for exceptions to the seven-year rule where incumbents are deemed to have “scarce expertise or qualifications”, Department of Sport Assistant Secretary Con Haugh told HRI that allowing Mr Kavanagh to reapply for his job could set a precedent and undermine an “important principle”.

The department eventually relented and gave Mr Kavanagh permission to reapply for his job through an open competition to be held following the completion of his contract in 2008.

The issue was largely put to one side until then, when Mr Brosnan again wrote to Mr Haugh seeking permission to reappoint the existing chief executive without a competition, which he said would be “futile” as “nobody could compete with him” for the role.

Mr Brosnan added that “we would all be held to ridicule” if Mr Kavanagh was made to interview for the job.

Internal HRI emails show Mr Kavanagh put forward a draft job advertisement that could be used for the position, for which he himself successfully reapplied.

Contract extension

Mr Kavanagh was appointed for a further seven years from September 2009.

In the summer of 2010, Mr Kavanagh had still not signed his contract. He suggested a clause prohibiting him from seeking a further contract extension in future be deleted.

He received the backing of Mr Brosnan, who made representations to the Department of Agriculture, to which it now reported, asking for the clause to be removed as it was “neither possible or practical” and “not to anyone’s advantage”.

In a response sent on March 9th, 2011, Department of Agriculture Secretary General Tom Moran said Mr Kavanagh’s length of service was “unprecedented” and there was “no basis” for HRI to assume the derogation granted for his first contract would apply for the new contract. He said the power to grant an exceptional extension ultimately lay with the Department of Finance.

During this period, Mr Kavanagh sent a number of letters to Mr Brosnan outlining his opposition to the contractual clause preventing him from being allowed to continue as chief executive for a third term

In one such letter dated April 12th, 2011, he informed Mr Brosnan that the new contract represented a “fundamental and detrimental change” to his terms and conditions of employment and would require him to vacate the position by the age of 51. This was “not something that I ever have or ever would have agreed to”, he added.

Despite complaining that the contract “breaches both employment law and my constitutional rights”, Mr Kavanagh signed it in October 2011.

This was after warnings communicated by HRI to the Department of Agriculture that Mr Kavanagh would have a “strong legal case” against the department should it insist on retaining the clause aimed at preventing his reemployment.

In 2014, Mr Kavanagh wrote to new HRI chairman Joe Keeling setting out his achievements, after which Mr Keeling asked the department to consider allowing another extension to the chief executive’s term of office.

Among the points made by Mr Kavanagh, and later reflected in submissions to departmental officials by Mr Keeling in December 2014 and again in November 2015, were that other sport body chief executives such as Liam Mulvihill (GAA) and Philip Browne (IRFU) had served for longer.

Mr Kavanagh, who receives an annual package worth €247,000, was eventually ratified for a further five-year term in September 2016 without an open competition.

Mr Keeling apologised to the Dáil agriculture committee the following month for the manner in which the appointment was carried out.

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