Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern spoke about Rody Molloy’s €1m slap on the back and the viablity of Mary Coughlan’s position as tánaiste on RTÉ’s The Saturday View, earlier. Click the latest show button to have a listen.
Rachael English asked him if he agreed with his Fianna Fáil back bench colleagues who called Molloy’s pension “madness”.
He opened with a complete irrelevancy and based the rest of his defence on it.
“The fact is, eh, at the particular time, eh, the board spent, eh, well over a day, eh, discussing this issue… emmm… obviously they had certain information, eh, [which] they based their judgment on…”
I do not believe this was the case. I believe the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment would have had to sign off on all this and thus she, as head of the department, was responsible.
However, if it is the case that the board made the final decision to give Mr Molloy €11,000 a year extra on top of his pension, why was it not a member of the Government? Last time I heard, a civil servant didn’t have such a mandate. So who is responsible according to Minister Ahern?
He continues, referring now to Rody Molloy’s outrageous expenses…
“you know, there was pressure to get Mr Molloy to move on to address some of the issues that were, you know, well publicised and people had difficulty with. So a judgment had to be made […] I wasn’t privy to those and I wasn’t part of those discussions but as always in these situations when you are negotiating, [you have to ask yourself] do you take – you have to take, you obviously have to take – what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer.
And if it was a case that this man [Rody Molloy] went to court subsequently – and even might still go to court – you would have a protracted High Court action, possibly a Supreme Court action, which would cost the taxpayer much much more.”
Taking this point separately, as Minister Ahern has yet to answer the first question: there is absolutely no proof of this claim that it would cost the taxpayer more to not give Molloy a golden handshake, because the Government didn’t take any legal advice.
Even so, Mr Molloy (following his expenses furore, the missing car, the unaired advertising campaign, the €600,000 which disappeared, the person in North Carolina being left holding a float of €140,000 of our money, and the signing off on the move to Croker without the board being told, to name a few) would have some nerve to take a High Court action looking for more taxpayers’ money, in these straightened times.
If he did, the defence would be reckless incompetence.
It’s hard to sack a civil servant, but if they piss in the keyboard they’re gone. Mr Molloy was pissing in the keyboard day after day. Incompetence is too light a term.
Rachael English picked up the point about no legal advice being sought and questioned the minister on it. Amazingly, Minister Ahern shifts the blame to civil servants…
“The minister particularly would have to rely on the advice given by the Accounting Officer who ultimately is the person responsible, not the minister, to the Oireachtas for the spending of the money…”
That sentence blows my mind.
“from what I understand…”
That’s a qualifier, they’re used by politicians all the time to avoid having to stand behind statements made in the public arena, this interview is loaded with qualifiers…
“…the severance package was in line with what could have been claimed as normal, in the normal course [of events, and that] the deal was sanctioned by the Accounting Officer of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and sanctioned by Finance under the Labour Services Act.”
He lays blame at the door of two civil servants, failing to note that the buck stops with the ministers of each department.
Rachael English… “you’re hardly saying this stuff was normal: to give someone an additional four and a half years so that they ended up with a pension worth €111,000 per year – that’s the State old age pension plus €100,000 – [plus] a tax-free lump sum of almost €334,000 and another taxable payment of €111,000?
[…] It was based on making a judgment call, “do we cut our losses at this stage and pay a little bit extra”…
Did you gag on that “little bit extra phrase” too? I did.
…”to prevent a court action stringing out and eventually probably costing the taxpayer an awful lot more money with legal teams having to be paid”
Probably? Probably costing more than €1m? That’s a stretch.
Molloy would have to win his case if it were to cost the taxpayer hugely, there is no expert opinion stating that to be likely… because there was no legal advice sought.
Back to the interview, Ms English interrupts and asks the minister if it is his view that the right decision was made, she quotes his party colleagues who said it was a poor decision.
“I don’t agree that it was a poor judgment but it was one of these issues where, from time to time – and it is very difficult – if you look at the history of trying to get CEOs or chairmen of boards of state-owned bodies to move on, you will find that most of them were caught up in legal action… if you look at the history [of cases like these] ultimately the taxpayer lost out. To prevent the running of taxpayers money into millions… [interrupted]
Does Minister Ahern not realise this deal is already set to run into millions? Rody Molloy just has to hang around for another 30 years and we’re there, Minister.
Ms English interrupts, “was it a mistake not to take legal advice?” she asks…
“Again, I wasn’t there.”
“But legal advice is all very well, legal advice would tell you, you know, one thing or another.”
A fool’s sentence. Or a sentence of someone who knows he is looking to fool. Dermot Ahern is a solicitor, take your pick…
“Ultimately someone has to make a judgment…”
Don’t get too excited, dear reader, he’s not going to say a minister is the person ultimately responsible. Nope…
“… there are very good civil servants in the department of enterprise who obviously in conjunction with the minister [made a decision that was] in the best interest of Fás, in the best interest of the taxpayer and responded to the outcry about the need to get Mr Molloy out of his position”
Again, of course, Mr Ahern can’t back up any of this because there was no legal advice sought.
“… I think the public would have been rightly worried if things were to go into a protracted legal case costing possibly millions where the State ultimately would lose out, where Mr Molloy would get his money, where his barristers and solicitors would get paid, where the State would have to pay the State’s solicitors and barristers too. So ultimately a judgment was made in the best interests of Fás and indeed the taxpayer – and if it meant paying an another few pound, so be it, in the interests of saving [in the long term]…”
There is no expert opinion saying there would be a legal case. There is no expert opinion saying any such case would be protracted. There is no expert opinion saying it would cost millions.
However, strangely, if there was such a case, the minister is already sure it would go against the State. He says “the taxpayer would ultimately lose out”, he’s also positive that Molloy would get “his” (not “our”) money and that the decision was made in interests of saving “a few pound”. However, as stated, Minister Ahern has nothing relevant to back this up.
Later in the program, following a comment from Fine Gael’s Billy Timmons Mr Ahern says…
“It is a judgment call that had to be made – do we cut our losses now by getting a deal with this man to get him to go quietly or do we have a protracted legal battle that will go on for years, perhaps, and cost the taxpayers more money.”
One wonders who Minister Ahern means by “we”.
A final question: Why was the Government happy to allow Molloy “go quietly” from his Fás position while continuing to pay him to head the Institute of Public Administration? If he was incompetent at Fás, (as the Government seems to have accepted by attempting to get him to leave his post as quickly as possible – hence the golden handshake) how was he competent to remain head of the IPA?
I also wonder if he can claim a second state pension from the IPA to go along with his lovely Fás one.
By the way, all these calls for Mary Coughlan’s head will get no where. We know by now that Irish Governments don’t make decisions, additionally there’s a bye-election on the way in Donegal. Unless she turns severely toxic, more toxic than Cowen, or even Junket Johnny himself, Mary Coughlan will be sticking around.
Politics before principles, that’s how it works.
The Saturday View presented by Rachael English is on air RTÉ Radio One from 1pm to 2pm.