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'We knew we’d overstepped the mark' - former CRC Chair admits ignoring HSE

TD Simon Harris said that the Clinic’s board showed “blatant disregard” for the HSE when it hired Brian Conlan.

Hamilton Goulding
Hamilton Goulding
Image: Oireachtas TV

HAMILTON GOULDING, THE former Chair of the CRC, has admitted that the organisation “overstepped the mark” when it appointed Brian Conlan as its CEO last July.

The Central Remedial Clinic appointed Conlan on a salary of €125,000, over €40,000 above HSE guidelines.

He was paid at that level until October, when he asked the CRC board to lower his pay to the approved €83,252. He stepped down in December at the request of the HSE, along with all other board members.

Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said that the Clinic’s board showed “blatant disregard” for the HSE when it hired Conlan, noting they must have thought: “When we appoint the next guy, we’ll obey the rules.”

Goulding told the Public Accounts Committee that the board felt it could afford to pay Conlan the higher salary as his appointment came at the time of the retirement of former CEO Paul Kiely and another executive, which led to €340,000 being freed up.

“We knew we’d overstepped the mark a bit …we did try to patch things up,” Goulding said, adding: “We clearly transgressed but we got a good result” – referencing Conlan’s suitability for the role.

“It’s not a perfect story,” Goulding admitted.

At one point in proceedings, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said that the Clinic had essentially told the HSE to “get lost” whenever it asked questions.

‘Write the cheque and hand it off’

Harris said that the financial controversy surrounding the CRC was brought about due to an attitude of “Write the cheque and hand it off to the service provider”, without following up where the money was going.

When questioned about Kiely’s retirement payoff of almost €742,000, Goulding said the board members knew they were “at the boundary of things getting more expensive … we were if they didn’t agree to his terms”.

He said it was unfair to say that Kiely was “pushing us around all the time” but noted that he was “a very determined individual and well aware of his rights”.

Earlier today, Hamilton’s successor Kieran Timmins told the committee that the CRC board was considering asking for Kiely to repay some of the money.

crc john mcg 3 july Source: Oireachtas TV

Committee Chair John McGuinness said that a transcript of the meeting would be sent to Conlan, who was not present. His solicitors had questioned him being called as a witness and whether or not it was under PAC’s remit to investigate how taxpayers’ money and public donations were used to top-up executive salaries at the charity.

Laverne McGuinness, Deputy Director General of the HSE, informed the committee that, as of the 1 July deadline, 60 executives in voluntary hospitals and health agencies had claimed to have contractual entitlements to retain top-up payments.

McGuinness said that a further 43 payments have ceased, while there are 18 cases for which the necessary documentation has not been submitted. She added that the HSE was working with a number of other agencies to achieve compliance.

‘Off the hook’

Harris said he hoped that other Section 38 bodies would not be let “off the hook” by the committee as it has been so focused on two particular organisations - the CRC and the Rehab Group.

He said that organisations like the CRC exist because of the “holistic failure of the State” to provide for people with disabilities.

Independent TD Shane Ross said that he while he was not slow to criticse Goulding, he commended him for appearing before the committee.

I think it’s brave, it was difficult for you … You did have an option to take a different route, which some of your colleagues did.

The Clinic’s reputation has been badly damaged by the controversy – it’s fundraising dropped from €404,000 in 2012 to €190,934 last year.

Goulding praised the CRC’s “excellent” staff and said he hoped that the organisation would “bounce back quickly”.

Originally published 4.35pm

Earlier: The CRC hasn’t asked for Paul Kiely to repay part of his €742K pay-out… yet

Read: PAC will be discussing the CRC today, but who is going to turn up?

Related: Former CRC chief rejects that any fundraised money was kept secret

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Órla Ryan

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