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‘X’ marks spot to save EBS

Posted on: March 31st, 2008

HIGH noon beckons in the EBS board of directors’ shootout. How should we vote?

Let me break the habit of a lifetime. And be a bit balanced.

Now for my first effort at balance: Fergus Murphy, the new kid on the block at the EBS could be a breath of fresh air. There are signs that Fergus may be opening up Fortress EBS.

For a second bit of balance: not all six candidates recommended for election by EBS chairman Mark Moran are unsuitable for office; one or two are even blessed with talent.

Better still, not all of them voted for the departed boss Ted McGovern’s outrageous €1.9m pay-off last year. Some of them did. Others were, happily, not yet on the board.

Remember Ted’s shock parting package, as revealed in the Sunday Independent? It is a shameful monument to Mark Moran’s regime, a mockery of the members.

Unfortunately, the EBS ringmaster, Mark himself, will not seek re-election this year. We will have to wait until 2009 for that spicy little contest.

Enough of balance for now. Down to business. You ought to have received your EBS ballot. It should be returned in good time for the AGM on April 14.

I shall be happy to accept a proxy from any member unable to attend.

Be very, very careful how you use it. The voting system is tricky. Do not fall into the board’s well-laid trap. Do NOT split your vote.

You have seven votes. Do you want to use them to maximum effect? You do? Well then, only use one. It is called a plumper.

I have a single objective: to restore a damaged reputation, to see last year’s shafted victim — Ethna Tinney — returned to the board with a thumping majority.

She is the only candidate with a credible claim to represent us, the members. Of course, that is why she was ousted by Mark and his insiders last year.

I want to see Mark and the Mater Private Hospital cabal, who hold sway at the EBS, given a bloody nose.

Mark is not recommending Ethna. Last year he shafted her. He wants proxies sent to himself to support his cronies.

There is only one way of ensuring Ethna’s restoration: vote for Ethna and for Ethna alone.

If you give any other candidate an ‘X’ as well, you will be damaging Ethna’s chances. So if you want Ethna elected, plump for her.

Let me explain. Mark will be lining up his forces behind the board’s home team. He is hoping that his ragbag of six insiders will be re-elected. He aims to hold enough proxies to return them all.

If his plan works, that will leave just one vacancy, setting up a dogfight between Ethna and the other candidate, society hostess Linda O’Shea Farren. The two ladies could be pitted head-to-head for the last position.

Such a scenario is Mark Moran’s Mecca.

If the two maidens are slugging it out for the final slot, it is vital that we only vote for Ethna. Mark would be ecstatic if Linda pipped Ethna by a whisker. And many of those supporting Mark’s slate will undoubtedly be giving Linda an ‘X’ — simply to thwart Ethna.

A vote for Linda could be the vote that blocks Ethna’s return.

But back to the unpalatable effort at balance: any fair analysis of Mark’s six proteges will conclude that some have more valid claims to board membership than others.

Philip Williamson is the vice chair. He carries plenty of negatives: he is a fatcat from the UK with his best days behind him; he did not cover himself with glory in his final year at the Nationwide. But Philip knows a bit about building societies, which is more than can be said for other candidates. And to his eternal credit, he has probably never heard of the Mater Private Hospital, the elitist institution which, awkwardly, keeps cropping up in the tale of the EBS board.

Williamson, warts and all, leaves a couple of our home- grown candidates in the shade.

For example, although Philip is vice chairman, he will receive a smaller salary than audit committee chairman Jim Ruane.

Philip is due to receive €52,000 as Number Two. Jim will earn €68,000. Chairman, Mark Moran will trouser €102,000.

So who is candidate Jim Ruane, the second best-paid director? Jim is one of the motley EBS crew that boasts a familiar pedigree; he galloped onto the board last year, co-opted straight from the Mater Private Hospital stable, the fertile breeding ground for EBS directors.

Jim was a director of the Mater Private. Mark Moran was chairman of the Mater Private.

And incredibly, Mark’s predecessor at the EBS, Brian Joyce, was chairman of the Mater Private. That is why Mark is so often affectionately referred to as “son of Brian”.

The most reliable route to the EBS board is the Mater Private Hospital road.

Ethna Tinney was never a director of the Mater Private.

Strangely enough, Jim’s background in the Mater is missing from his biography in this year’s annual report. How odd. Last year it was proudly included. This year it has disappeared into the ether!

And last week, yet another director suddenly emerged with a Mater Private Hospital connection. EBS secretary Emer Finnan admitted that she too acted for the Mater when working at NCB stockbrokers, not long before she was recruited by the old regime at the EBS. What a happy quartet.

On Thursday, Emer was doing her loyal duty to the board, not revealing relevant information. She refused to tell me how much new boss Fergus Murphy was being paid; she refused to say how much she and others took out of the coffers for club memberships; she refused to reveal the benefits each top dog enjoyed for cars; details of Ted’s near €2m package were out of the question. She made a mutual society sound like a secret society.

Suddenly, new chief executive Fergus Murphy rode to the rescue. He volunteered nearly all the facts that Emer had withheld. So in the spirit of balance, let us give Fergus a chance, even if the old board should be sent their P45s.

Fergus could be an improvement on Ted.

Ethna Tinney is the only candidate on record as opposing Ted’s departing bonanza. If Ethna had been a director, Ted’s lavish farewell payment would have been fought tooth and nail. She would have kicked up such a stink at the board that no director could have faced the membership after that.

Transparency at the EBS board is a joke. That is why we need Ethna’s voice at the table.

Give your only ‘X’ to Ethna.