Richard Bruton’s delay over Paul Appleby retirement

RICHARD Bruton waited an astonishing four days to tell the Taoiseach that Paul Appleby was retiring.

Despite being told the Director of Corporate Enforcement’s shock decision last Friday, the Enterprise Minister waited until the Cabinet meeting at 10.30am Tuesday to break the news to his shocked colleagues.

Mr Appleby will stay in his €146,000-a-year job – and keep the €225,000 lump sum and €75,000-a-year pension he should have seen reduced.

After announcing on Tuesday morning that he was to retire this month, Mr Appleby backtracked on the bombshell decision following negotiations with ministers.

The same day was the deadline for the Government’s early-retirement scheme under which civil servants can claim pensions based on their salaries before recent rounds of public sector pay cuts.

Continuing beyond this date would have reduced Mr Appleby’s pension by around €4,000 a year and his lump sum by around €6,000, to €219,000.

But there were red faces as the Government had to make an exception for Mr Appleby – who is heading the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank – within hours of Tuesday’s deadline.

Last night, when asked for the time and date when Enda Kenny was first personally made aware of Mr Appleby’s decision to apply, a spokesman said: ‘It was at that Cabinet meeting.’

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin insisted on Tuesday that he, too, had just heard the news.

But it has been assumed that – at the very least – Mr Bruton might have phoned or even sent a message to the Taoiseach to tell him about the imminent retirement of the man heading up the largest investigation of its kind in the history of the State.

Indeed, it now appears that it was only after the Taoiseach was told of the matter that it was resolved and Mr Appleby was persuaded to stay on at the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath warned that there were ‘more Paul Appleby’s’ waiting to happen.

He said: ‘The whole Paul Appleby story just undermines the ham-fisted way the Government has approached the retirement of public servants. People in senior positions, particularly in sensitive roles, should have been required to inform the Government several months in advance what exactly their intentions were.

‘Clearly that didn’t happen and now the Government is fire fighting.’

He added: ‘We will see more cases like Paul Appleby where the Government is just going to have to make this up as they go along.’ Mr Appleby was appointed to the role in 2001 to tackle the pervading culture of non-compliance with company law following banking scandals and tribunal disclosures.

His resignation had sparked fury, with one caller to RTÉ’s Liveline saying, ‘A man in such a high position should have the good of the nation as his top priority, like the captain of a ship should.

‘For God’s sake, see this investigation through.’ Last night, it was confirmed that a deal has been formally agreed and that he will be appointed as acting director of the ODCE.

A spokesman for Mr Bruton said last night: ‘The minister’s focus at all times has been on the investigation into Anglo, and the solution reached reflects the importance the Government places on this investigation.

‘It has been confirmed that Mr Appleby will be appointed as acting Director of Corporate Enforcement for a period of six months at his current salary level, subject to the normal abatement rules.

‘The minister is satisfied that it will now be possible to ensure a smooth transition to a successor for Mr Appleby and also to maintain the impetus in the investigation.’

And he added: ‘The minister is happy to confirm that he has received sanction for the recruitment of a successor to Mr Appleby.’

When asked why the minister had waited so long to tell the Taoiseach, the spokesman replied: ‘Mr Bruton met with Mr Appleby on Monday to discuss the matter and then raised it at Cabinet on Tuesday.’

Last night, the ODCE declined to make any comment. Mr Appleby’s resignation statement was still posted on the office’s website last night, without any reference to Tuesday’s U-turn.

Senior RTE chiefs step aside over Kevin Reynolds Prime Time Investigates libel row

TWO of the most senior figures in RTÉ’s current affairs team stepped aside yesterday as the broadcaster tried to calm public anger over its libelling of Father Kevin Reynolds.

Ed Mulhall, the managing director of its news and current affairs division, and Kevin O’Shea, its editor of current affairs, will be off-duty while the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland carries out an investigation into the controversy.

Aoife Kavanagh, the Prime Time Investigates reporter who falsely alleged that the priest had raped a teenage girl and fathered a child in Africa, will be taken ‘off air’, as will the programme’s executive producer Brian Páircéir.

The damage-limitation exercise came the day after RTÉ announced it was suspending Prime Times Investigates as Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte ordered an independent probe into how the priest was defamed.

The broadcaster said of yesterday’s staff moves: ‘These decisions have been agreed in order to remove any possible doubt about the objectivity and impartiality of RTÉ’s news and current affairs services at this time and are taken without prejudice to any party.’

RTE’s decision to air the allegations about the priest in the face of his denials is estimated to have cost the State-run broadcaster – and therefore the taxpayer – between €1million and €3million.

It came under particular criticism for refusing the priest’s offer to take a paternity test – something that would later prove his innocence.

The broadcaster was also roundly criticised last week for the hurried way an apology to Fr Reynolds was read out on air.

After the libel judgment went against the broadcaster this month, it promised an internal inquiry into ‘editorial procedure’.

However, Mr Rabbitte decided this was not enough and asked the BAI’s Compliance Committee to examine if RTÉ had ‘met its statutory responsibilities around objectivity, impartiality and fairness’. The investigation is expected to last two months.

In an edition Prime Time Investigates entitled A Mission To Prey, Miss Kavanagh approached the priest after he had conducted a first Holy Communion Mass, and wrongly accused him of sexually abusing a teenage girl in Kenya in 1982.

She also wrongly accused him of fathering a child with the woman. The reporters’ allegations against the 65-year-old parish priest of Ahascragh, Co. Galway, were broadcast to an audience of 519,000 on May 23.

They were repeated the following morning on Morning Ireland, when 338,000 listeners tuned in.

RTÉ director general Noel Curran has said the libelling of Fr Reynolds was one of the gravest editorial mistakes ever made in RTÉ and serious errors were made.

On the way into the launch of a book on the history of RTÉ by John Bowman last night, Enda Kenny said: ‘I welcome the fact that RTÉ have announced publicly that they are going to co-operate and cooperate fully with the inquiry into the Fr Reynolds libel.

‘Obviously the fact that RTÉ have made a decision themselves that certain personnel will stand down for the duration of that investigation is obviously a decision that RTÉ have taken in the light of what’s happened here.’

Earlier, the Taoiseach had told the Dáil: ‘I respect completely the independence of the Press Ombudsman, Mr [John] Horgan.

He is carrying out an investigation and I have no question over his independence in his role.

‘Following the initiative taken [by Pat Rabbitte], I thought it important that the Government act in the best interests of the highest standards in journalism and the rights of every person in this matter.’

On Morning Ireland Mr Rabbitte said: ‘The issues involved are very grave. I don’t recall a lapse of this magnitude before in the history of RTÉ… But my impression is the management of RTÉ understands the gravity of it and it’s that public disquiet that has to be allayed.

‘It has traditionally adhered to very high standards and it is in the interest of the broadcaster as well as in the public interest that the questions that remain around the Kevin Reynolds case be cleared up.’

RTÉ said Prime Time Investigates has been suspended for December and that Mr Páircéir and Miss Kavanagh ‘will not be involved in any on-air programming for this period and as with all other relevant members of staff, they will be engaged in assist-ing the RTÉ and BAI inquiries’.

At the High Court this month, Jack FitzGerald SC, counsel for Fr Reynolds, said: ‘Following the broadcast, Fr Reynolds was a priest removed from public ministry, out of home and labelled a criminal, a paedophile and a rapist.

‘Fr Reynolds suffered irreparable damage to his reputation. His life was utterly altered and he was removed from his home and his community. He was cast under a cloud of suspicion.’

The priest denied all allegations and, four days after Miss Kavanagh confronted him, his solicitors wrote to RTÉ to repeat the denials and asked the broadcaster not to screen the accusations.

However, RTÉ ignored the letter. On May 18, Miss Kavanagh emailed Fr Reynolds to say the broadcast would go ahead and claimed to have evidence to back up her claims.

The priest’s solicitors wrote back with further denials and his bishop in Africa emailed Miss Kavanagh to tell her the allegations were untrue.

Mr FitzGerald said RTÉ broadcast the allegations ‘in the teeth of firm denials’.

Fr Reynolds stood down but on September 12 he was restored to public ministry after a paternity test showed that he was not the child’s father.

AIB bow to ECB interest rate cut pressure

AIB has bowed to political pressure over its decision not to pass on the European Central Bank’s 0.25 per cent rate cut.

Last night, the bank issued a brief statement announcing it would pass on the rate cut to its mortgage holders.

But Bank of Ireland refused to say if it would follow suit.

Just after 7.30pm, an AIB spokesman stated: ‘Following the meeting between AIB, members of the Government and the Economic Management Council, the board of AIB has decided to implement a 0.25% interest rate cut to its variable rate mortgages.’

The decision comes a day after the bank’s bosses were hauled in for a meeting with Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan to explain why the rate cut had not been passed on.

Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank bosses were also summoned to the meeting of Wednesday’s Economic Management Council meeting.

But when the bank bosses emerged on Wednesday, they infuriated the Government by saying they would not be cutting their interest rates.

It was a major humiliation for the Taoiseach and Finance Minister. It led to calls yesterday for the boards and public interest directors of AIB and Bank of Ireland to be sacked.

But AIB’s move is said to follow a lengthy phone conversation between AIB officials and Kenny earlier in the day.

Eamon Gilmore was pilloried and branded ‘pathetic’ in the Dáil yesterday for taking a soft stance with the lenders, which have been propped-up with billions in taxpayers’ cash.

The Tánaiste insisted he had been ‘very clear’ with the banks when they were summoned before the Government’s Economic Management Council on Wednesday.

AIB’s decision to pass on the rate cut is likely to bring an end to the demands for sackings.

The focus will now shift to Bank of Ireland, which was still offering no commitment to cut its mortgage rates.

When asked last night if it was going to follow AIB’s move, a spokesman told the Irish Daily Mail: ‘All the bank’s rates of interest are under review.’

Of the Government’s Economic Management Council meeting, Mr Gilmore said: ‘The representatives of the three banks who attended the meeting yesterday told us it was not their intention to pass on the reduction to their borrowers.

‘We made the Government’s view very clear to them, namely, that the interest rate reduction made by the ECB should be passed on.

‘People with mortgages need the reduction.’ Fianna Fáil deputy leader Éamon Ó Cuív described the refusal to pass on the reduction to domestic and business borrowers as ‘absolutely scandalous’.

He asked: ‘Will emergency legislation be introduced in the House next week to give the Financial Regulator the power to force the banks to pass on the ECB interest rate reduction?

‘Will the Government replace forthwith all public interest directors who are now not acting in the public interest?

‘Will it seek an immediate emergency general meeting of the guaranteed banks to remove the remaining directors?’

‘It is time the Government walked the walk rather than just talked the talk.’ Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin noted that Junior Minister Brian Hayes had described the response of bank executives as ‘pathetic’.

The Monaghan TD said the word would be better applied to the failure of the Government to take on the banks.

He said: ‘In response to their polite request that the banks pass on the recent interest rate reduction, they were told, no.

‘The Government will have to take the decision to stand up and confront the banks to protect the interests of ordinary mortgage holders.’

While brushing off calls to lower rates earlier this week, AIB’s executive chairman David Hodgkinson said: ‘We have cut rates in EBS [now a subsidiary of AIB], but we are the lowest in the market and we will remain that way.

‘Because we didn’t increase our rates, we’re not going to decrease them.’ Customers affected are those with standard variable rate mortgages. With tracker mortgages, any changes in the ECB rate must automatically be passed on to the customer.

However, with standard variable rate mortgages, the banks have discretion.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny enters The Taoiseach’s Office for the first time

These shots capture a few moments when Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny returned to Dublin’s city centre after receiving his seal of office from the President Mary McAleese at Aras an Uachtarain. Nice moment as he enters the gates, a teenage boy steps forward and shakes his hand.

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Fine Gael and Enda Kenny Aviva election rally

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