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.