Categorized | Credit Unions

Quango’s €40k a year to fly credit union leader from Canada to Dublin

By Michael O’Farrell

InvestigationsEditor

A QUANGO set up to merge struggling credit unions has spent more than €100,000 flying its chairman to meetings in Dublin from his home in Canada.

Although resident in Canada, Bobby McVeigh was appointed chairman of the Credit Union Restructuring Board by Michael Noonan in August 2012.

ReBo commenced operating in January 2013.

Since then, the board has spent up to €40,000 a year flying Mr McVeigh to board meetings every month in Dublin, and putting him up in hotels such as the Burlington – where one 10-day stay in December 2013 cost €990.

In all, these expenses have cost the board more than €105,000 between the start of 2013 and the end of 2015. In addition to these expenses, Mr McVeigh is paid a fee as chairman of €13,257.

Last night, a spokesperson for the Finance Minister said Mr McVeigh – an internationally renowned credit union expert – was ’eminently qualified’ to chair ReBo which had been ‘very successful in its operations’.

The department also confirmed that Mr McVeigh was one of six board members who applied for their position following an advertisement on Government appointments portal stateboards.ie Since taking up his role, Mr McVeigh has attended between 10 and 11 board meetings a year – at a cost of approximately €3,000 each time. While the cost of hiring him may raise eyebrows in some quarters, there is no suggestion his expenses are anything other than above board.

The appointment of suitably qualified foreign-based individuals to Department of Finance state boards is not unique. For example, Brendan McDonagh – a board member of the National Treasury Management Agency – lives in Bermuda. His travel and hotel expenses for attending 10 board meetings in 2015 came to €23,109.

In contrast, Mr McVeigh’s expenses for attending 11 ReBo meetings in 2015 came to €40,231, although it is understood his work involved visits to credit unions around the country.

Appointing Mr McVeigh in 2012, Minister Noonan described him as having ‘a deep understanding of the history of the credit union sector in Ireland and the challenges to be addressed going forward.’ Mr McVeigh’s association with the Irish credit union movement includes a stint as vice-chairman of the World Council of Credit Unions at a time when the council was chaired by Irish executive Gerry Foley – the then chair of Rush Credit Union. The council previously described Mr McVeigh as ‘a long-time family friend and board colleague,’ of Mr Foley. Since then, however, Rush Credit Union has collapsed amid a series of shocking allegations.

So far, ReBo has carried out 82 restructuring projects in which 156 credit unions have been merged into new joint entities – a move seen as vital to improving the stability of weaker credit unions.

But the board has not always run smoothly and there have been some slip-ups that have cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of euro in extra payouts. It is supposed to comply with the Government’s ‘one person, one salary principle’ – a rule that forbids someone working in the public service from earning directorship fees at a state board.

Yet ReBo paid board member Kathleen Prendergast a directorship fee of €8,522 in 2013, to which she was not entitled as an employee of Tipperary County Council.

Ms Prendergast is also chairperson of Tipperary Credit Union (see panel below). When the error was discovered, the department agreed that the money did not have to be repaid so long as the board complied with public sector pay rules for all future payments.

Also in 2013, the board was unable to collect fees of €348,000 from credit unions – leaving the taxpayer liable for the funds. In an unexplained oversight, ReBo and Mr Noonan failed to introduce regulations allowing half the board’s operating costs to be collected from credit unions via a levy.

The mistake saw the board receiving a mild rebuke from the State spending watchdog when the 2013 accounts were audited: ‘Due to a delay in the making of levy regulations, the board was unable to retrospectively raise statutory levies on credit unions in 2013,’ the Comptroller and Auditor General’s audit report reads. ‘In 2013, that amounted to €348,000.’ The Irish Mail on Sunday asked the department and ReBo who was responsible for the failure to implement the required regulations but did not receive an answer from either.

In a statement, the board said it expected its programme of work to be completed by the end of this month. In addition, acting chief executive Joshua Fletcher, defended the travel expenses incurred by the chairman.

‘The duration of each visit is on average four to seven days (excluding travel time) and involves an itinerary that includes meetings credit unions throughout the country and other key stakeholders, including credit union representative bodies, the Department of Finance, the Registry of Credit Unions and attendance at credit union conferences,’ he said.

‘The average cost per visit, including flights, meals, local transport and accommodation, is less than €3,000. ReBo adheres to all relevant legislation and codes of practice, as confirmed by both its internal and external auditors.’ michaelofarrell@newsscoops.org ‘Unexplained oversight cost taxpayer €348k”On top of expenses, he gets a fee of €13,257”Mr McVeigh’s Burlington stay in 2013 cost €990’

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