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Ex-Labour senator claims he was told to come up with ‘list of women’ for state boards

James Heffernan’s claims come in the wake of the controversy over David Begg’s appointment as chair of the Pensions Authority.

James Heffernan after he resigned the Labour whip in December 2012.
James Heffernan after he resigned the Labour whip in December 2012.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A FORMER LABOUR senator, who is now running for the Social Democrats, claims he was told to come up with a list of women who he wanted appointed to state boards in return for supporting the government.

James Heffernan resigned the Labour whip in December 2012 after opposing cuts to the respite care grant and child benefit in Budget 2013.

Former Labour chairman Colm Keaveney, who is now in Fianna Fáil, also claims he was offered “incentives, appointments and deals” in a bid to convince him not to vote against the same budget measures over three years ago.

Heffernan claims that in a bid to convince him to back the Budget, David Leach, then a policy director for then-tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, told him to provide a list of people he wanted appointed to state boards – as long as they were female. Heffernan told TheJournal.ie: 

He said any state board that I wanted and to provide a list of names and make sure they’re female.

Leach, who later became Labour’s general secretary and now works with the Goal aid agency, said he had “no recollection of that whatsoever”. But when asked if that meant the conversation did not take place, he responded: “I didn’t say that.”

Labour also said that Leach does not recall the conversation. But the party did not deny that it happened. It added that Heffernan had met with the sports minister Michael Ring to express displeasure about grants for his area shortly before resigning the whip.

Heffernan added:

I was told that I’d get my own people on as many state boards that I wanted and the only qualification that I was told was that the applicant should be female. I made clear my absolute abhorrence, that this was abuse of state boards that was completely unacceptable.

Heffernan said he was offered “all these kind of sweeteners” for his constituency, but said that he could not stand over the decision to cut the welfare payments in the government’s second Budget.

File Pics Colm Keaveney is set to join Fianna Fail today. Colm Keaveney Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Meanwhile, Keaveney told this website he was also approached by senior party officials, who he declined to name, with “a range of incentives” to try convince him to support the same Budget.

There were a lot of incentives, appointments and deals put on the plate in between I voting for the Budget, but against the Social Welfare Bill. I rejected every one of them.

He said the offers were made “to keep the veneer of unity and fairness in the Budget by buying people’s silence”.

He added: “There was quite a bit offered and there were high-level meetings with me over the course of the week and they were not about reversing Budget cuts. That was not on the table.”

Labour said it could not comment on the Galway East TD’s claims without more detail.

‘Remaining in the fold’

Leach said it would not have been in his power to make offers of state board positions to deputies and senators, telling TheJournal.ie:

I wouldn’t have had the power to give those things out. Being realistic about it, how could I offer that? That’s a matter for people who are working for government. I was a party official, I wasn’t working for the government.

However, Leach added that it was his understanding that members of the parliamentary party could, from time-to-time, suggest people to be appointed.

He said any conversations he would have had with Labour TDs or Senators wavering over the Budget at that time would have centred on “the benefits of remaining in the fold”.

Asked what these benefits were, Leach responded:

I think, without a shadow of a doubt, this has been the most impressive government in the history of the state and being part of that.

Former Labour junior minister Róisín Shortall, who is now in the Social Democrats, said she was not offered anything prior to her sudden resignation from government in September 2012.

Former Labour TD Tommy Broughan, who voted against extending the bank guarantee in December 2011 and lost the party whip, said he was regarded as the “ringleader” of the opposition within the party and was never offered any deals.

The latest claims follow the recent controversy over Tánaiste Joan Burton’s appointment of former union boss David Begg as chair of the Pensions Authority which was widely criticised and led to accusations of cronyism.

screenshot.1453226801.1257 Source: www.thejournal.ie

Heffernan criticised the Begg appointment, which was done without reference to the Public Appointments Service under a little-known guideline, and said it “does nothing to restore confidence in politics”.

In response to queries, a Labour spokesperson said: “Mr Leach does not recall a discussion about state boards with Senator Heffernan.

However, it is the case that around that time a meeting was organised between senator Heffernan and Minister Ring. The senator was unhappy with the level of allocation of Sports Capital Grants for his area. Minister Ring told him grants were allocated on their merits. Senator Heffernan resigned the whip shortly thereafter.

The spokesperson added that Labour had overseen “significant reforms” of the state board appointments system, saying a revised system allows for appointments to be openly advertised on stateboards.ie.

They added: “Exceptions may be made in cases where a minister has independently identified a person who is evidently and objectively highly qualified and capable of discharging the role of chair and who has not otherwise applied through the Stateboards.ie process.

“Where a Minister has identified such a person, the Minister will, on appointment, publish information confirming the candidates qualification and suitability for the role.”

They added that proposed chairpersons are now also required to appear before the relevant Oireachtas committee.

Heffernan described Labour’s response to his claims as “pathetic”.

Labour’s one-day annual conference takes place in Mullingar, Co Westmeath today with Burton due to address the nation in a televised speech later.

State board controversy: Ex-union boss says he won’t be “driven out” of new role

Read: Labour TD criticises Burton for giving David Begg state board role without public process

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