By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A career civil servant with an unblemished record of public service is expected to be nominated by the Irish government this week for the £147,000 top EU bank job in the wake of the humiliation suffered in the last three months following the choice of former Supreme Court judge Hugh O’Flaherty.
Among the favorites are John Loughrey, the former secretary general of the Department of Public Enterprise, and Michael Tutty, the second secretary at he Department of Finance.
Following O’Flaherty’s withdrawal, Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy accepted that he got it wrong in a behind-closed-doors briefing to the Leinster House "lobby" of political correspondents.
He opted to make his views public that way rather than go on the record in TV or radio interviews or to hold an open press conference.
McCreevy apologized to the O’Flaherty family and is now saying that he would not have made the nomination if the clock could be wound back.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
The minister’s reputation has been badly damaged by the prolonged controversy and his dogged refusal to withdraw the nomination despite the public outcry. There is talk about a possible cabinet shakeup, with McCreevy being removed from his post, though it is believed the government will continue to support him.
Since O’Flaherty’s withdrawal for the job as a European Investment Bank vice president, a bank spokesman has confessed for the first time "we felt more and more uncomfortable" as the summer ended and the Irish post was still not filled.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Irish Times reveal the minister continued to wage a strenuous political campaign for the judge after the public outrage had become clear.
He persisted even when the EIB officials clearly signaled their unhappiness about O’Flaherty.
EIB president Phillipe Maystadt wrote to McCreevy to say the bank’s governors had again called in June for a "new phase of deliberations on governance and improving the effectiveness of the Bank’s decision-making bodies."
"I am sure you agree that, no matter how we take this forward, we must not do so to the detriment of that very important undertaking," Maystadt said.
The minister appears to have been deaf to the implicit message and pressed again to Maystadt on July 22 on O’Flaherty’s behalf that his candidature be advanced "with a view to an early appointment."
On the question of deliberations on future governance, McCreevy told the bank boss, "I will write to you on this matter after the present appointments have been made."
The documents also reveal that McCreevy later wrote to his French counterpart, Didier Reynders, who is currently holding the six-month presidency of the Council of EU Finance Ministers, to say O’Flaherty had been "endorsed by the Irish parliament."
In fact the Dail had split on the issue and it was the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrats coalition, supported by Independent TDs, that was doing the endorsing.
In his meeting with the political lobby journalists, the minister is reported to have rejected opposition calls for his resignation saying he was not the resigning type.
"I come from a breed of people who don’t resign," he said. "We get fired, thrown out, everything, but we never resign. If I’m ever going to do it, I’ll do it myself in my own time, but those things never crossed my mind."
Some weekend media reports have suggested the taoiseach may effectively fire his minister by moving him in a cabinet reshuffle. But with an election drawing closer and McCreevy repeatedly commenting on his planned series of budget reforms over five years, such a move is unlikely.
Unless new information emerges, the government is expected to close ranks and try to ride out an expected blizzard of opposition rhetoric when the Dail resumes in October.
By that time, the evidence of some stellar witnesses at the resuming sleaze tribunals may be dominating the media agenda.