Monday, January 17, 2011

Are public interest directors effective?

The Court of Directors at Bank of Ireland nominated two non-executive directors to represent the public interest at the behest of the Government following the introduction of the Government guarantee. They are Tom Considine, Secretary-General of the Department of Finance from March 2002 to June 2006 and former Fianna Fáil TD and minister, Joe Walsh.

They were paid €119,000 in the nine months ended 31 December 2009.

The Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, advised the Dáil barely a month ago that public interest directors “owe their duties to the company”; that “the interests of the company are paramount”. Public interest directors, he explained, “bring civic mindedness and a sense of what is in the public interest but that, to a great extent, the public interest and the covered institutions interest are likely to coincide”.

What are the consequences when this is not the case? The decision by Bank of Ireland to make outrageously extravagant bonus payments directly contravenes public policy articulated by the Department of Finance and utterly defies the role of society in keeping Bank of Ireland viable.

The Covered Institutions Remuneration Oversight Committee (CIROC) established by the Department of Finance were informed in early 2009 by the covered institutions that they did not intend to pay bonuses in respect of 2008 and CIROC recommended in February 2009 that bonuses should not be payable then, or for the period of the Government guarantee.

The membership of CIROC comprised:

  • Vivienne Jupp, a former executive of Accenture Ireland’s Government Operating Group. The Irish Government appointed her a member of the Broadcasting Commission and the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector. She is a member of the Finance Committee of Concern Worldwide and a board member of the Irish Hospice Foundation.
  • John Purcell former Comptroller and Auditor General
  • Eddie Sullivan, Secretary-General for Public Service Management and Development. Sullivan served as interim director of FÁS following the Rody Molloy debacle

How can the public interest be adequately served when the duties and obligation to serve the public interest are so ill defined by the Minister and there is apparently no communication to Government when public policy is contravened and the Dáil is blind-sided by inaccurate information provided by Bank of Ireland? What will the consequences be and who will bear them?

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