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Partnership Beast Rages On

Posted on: October 10th, 2010

The darker side of partnership is suddenly surfacing. Do not believe that partnership is dead. There is plenty of life left in the damaged doctrine.

Two weeks ago, the appointments to the board of the Central Bank were announced.

There was Mike Soden the banker, John Fitzgerald the economist, Max Regling the one-time director of the IMF and Blanaid Clarke the corporate law expert.

And then there is Des.

Des Geraghty knows as much about banking as I know about Pablo Picasso.

So how in God’s name did Des find himself on the €15,000-a-year Central Bank board?

Des just loves state boards.

To be fair to Des, he will bring a wealth of experience. Des was on the board of Fas until the end of last year, when all the directors resigned. Des was on the board of RTE. Des is chairman of the Affordable Homes Partnership, set up under one of the social partnership agreements — a nice little earner. Des pocketed €30,000 a year in both 2006 and 2007 for his devotion to affordable housing — a fee that dropped to €25,000 in 2008.

Des hardly covered himself with glory at Fas. He was one of the four trade unionists entitled to a board seat under the old regime. He was a director when chief executive Rody Molloy and chairman (and fellow trade unionist) Peter McLoone were jollying across the Atlantic, business class. There is no record of comrade Des protesting to comrade Peter about the Fas excesses happening on their watch.

Des took an early bath from Fas with the rest of them.

Less than a year later, he is rehabilitated. A director of Fas at the time of the worst overspending story in the history of the State has been appointed to the board of the most powerful body in Ireland with a mandate to guard the finances of the nation. The Central Bank must, above all, be vigilant. It must pounce on overspending. Is the man from Fas likely to inspire the necessary confidence in global bankers?

Let us hope that the IMF does not run the slide rule over Des’s qualifications to be a Central banker. It might wonder how he made the cut.

Des has enjoyed an interesting career. He was president of Siptu from 1999-2004.

He delivered the crucial Siptu vote, the largest block by far, on many social partnership deals.

Social partnership may be on the back foot, but the social partnership industry is booming. Ictu boss David Begg was a member of the board of the last Central Bank. This time it is Des’s turn. In Ireland, the insiders remain inside the tent. Despite our perilous position — of near bankruptcy — names on board seats have a telling familiarity.

Des’s beloved Siptu surfaced elsewhere last week. ‘Partnership’ money was causing a bit of a sensation. A few trade unionists joined with a few officials in various government departments to enjoy a few ‘study trips’. The money from the vaguely named “Skill Training Fund” was meant for a worthy cause — specifically to train lower-grade employees in the health service. Some of it funded 31 pretty attractive trips abroad.

The cosy cocktail of the HSE and Siptu was always likely to be lethal. It managed to bypass the normal rules. The HSE paid moneys to an account designated the “Siptu National Health and Local Authority Levy Fund”. Many of the claims on the fund from Siptu sources were unvouched. The HSE just handed over the money without question, breaking its own rules of compliance.

Such interesting centres of learning as New York, Australia, Hong Kong and the UK were visited.

Sounds a bit like Fas. Fun and games courtesy of public money; trade unionists and public servants travelling the world together — all done for the cause of education.

Siptu is protesting that it knew nothing of the account or the more exotic travel activities funded from this training fund. Nevertheless, last week Ireland’s largest union lodged €348,000 with a commissioner of oaths in case there were liabilities for reimbursements of expenses from the HSE. It sounds ominous.

Lots of investigations are being held. Lots of excuses are being made. Denials are the order of the day from Siptu , but these kings of social partnership have questions to answer.

And suddenly, in the middle of the controversy, an almost forgotten figure emerged in a new guise. The father of social partnership and another former Siptu boss, Billy Attley, appeared as the chairman of the steering committee overseeing the skill scheme for health workers. Billy was paid a grand a day for chairing this committee each time it met. If it met for a half-day he says he only took €500.

Why Billy?

Well, why not?

Billy the social partner was a natural choice. Billy has been on so many boards that he can probably not fit his CV on to a single sheet of paper. Billy, like Des, was once on the RTE Authority. Billy, like Des, was once on the board of Fas. But Billy did even better out of government gigs than Des. He was exceptionally well rewarded as a member of two benchmarking bodies entrusted to make recommendations on public service pay. He somehow found himself on the board of Eircom prior to its privatisation. Billy even managed to find time to travel. His appointment to the low-key European Economic and Social Committee forced him to journey to the capitals of Europe. On this social partnership committee was also none other than another former Fas board member — assistant general secretary of Ictu Sally Anne Kinahan. The lucky comrades received €233 a day when the committee sat and an extra €145 a day for “travel days”.

Although Attley retired from this energetic partnership perk earlier this year, he can now join the old boys’ association. It holds a “fact-finding” trip annually. Last year, they sampled the joys of Vilnius and Riga. They are currently seeking sponsorship.

Attley turns up everywhere. Early last week, when I was browsing through the expanding library of quango reports, up popped Billy. The old partnership zealot still sits quietly on the board of the Ordnance Survey Ireland at a more modest stipend of €8,000 a year.

Billy shows as little obvious expertise in ordnance surveying as Des does in Central Banking, but social partnership has done the brethren proud. It has proved a passport to perks.

In his autobiography, that great veteran of the semi-states, Todd Andrews, commented honestly on appointments to state boards. His remarks about political favours being dispensed to supporters was on the button, but he also observed that “a trade unionist is usually appointed for cosmetic reasons”.

Todd’s days at the helm of RTE, CIE and Bord na Mona pre-dated social partnership. He knew nothing about the industry of waste, patronage and quangos that was to piggy-back on his lifetime’s work.