CITY and county manager Conn Murray was forced onto the defensive at this Monday’s City Council meeting as the controversy over the appointment of the CEO of City of Culture 2014 intensified.
Several councillors are demanding answers as to why Patricia Ryan, a former advisor to City of Culture board chairman Pat Cox, was appointed without the post being advertised to council staff, or the general public.
There were even calls for Ms Ryan to resign from a position only recently confirmed.
Normally, public service appointments follow a strict procedure, including advertisement by the public appointments service.
Cllr Tom Shortt said a “crisis of confidence” hangs over the management of Limerick’s City of Culture project, while Cllr Diarmuid Scully insisted public representatives be placed on the steering board to provide “oversight” and “confidence” to the scheme.
In a written question, Cllr John Gilligan asked that given the city’s long practice of open competition for public sector employment, “does the manager consider he has broken any Government or ministerial guidelines in the appointment of a CEO to the City of Culture position?”
He also asked how long Ms Ryan’s contract will run for, and what her financial package will be.
Mr Murray said that there was “no breach in process”, later adding: “I am 34 years in public service - I know how these things work.”
He also said Ms Ryan’s package will be “in accordance with public sector pay and the Haddington Road agreement.”
“Elements need to be finalised, and we need to allow this to take its course.”
Mr Murray added the pay negotiations will be conducted by the public sector remuneration committee, and he would have no input into this.
But Cllr Jim Long was not satisfied, calling on Ms Ryan to “do the honourable thing and step aside”.
He said this is “due to the lack of transparency and in the interests of the city of culture.”
Cllr Tom Shortt added: “The manager has created the problem - he should correct the problem.”
“There is enormous disquiet around this. I know there would have been enormous interest in that position. Protocols were ignored here. The manager was quick to reprimand me if I transgressed protocol. But we do not hear anything when it comes to making one of the most crucial decisions on the future of Limerick City,” he said.
Cllr Maurice Quinlivan said: “It does not look good. There is a real anger this job was not advertised, when people wanted to apply for it: I wasn’t aware of it.”
Cllr Scully added: “It hs been mishandled. There is no question the correct person has been appointed. But the collateral damage could have been avoided if the process had been more transparent.”
Earlier, speaking to the Limerick Leader before the meeting, Mr Murray launched a robust defence of the process to appoint a CEO and “absolutely rejected” any accusations of cronyism.
“The board – which is made up of a serious number of people – ratified the recommendation made. Pat Cox had no involvement, high up or low down, in the process,” stressed the Limerick manager.
Mr Murray cited the “exceptionally tight timeline associated with City of Culture” for his decision to personally identify candidates, meet with them and then recommend Ms Ryan to the board.
“Had I been given clearer timelines, a longer lead-in and a more clear indication at an early stage what the budget and programme expectations would be, of course I would have followed a different line,” he explained.
“But I have to operate within the constraints I was given, and I believe I did it fairly and correctly,” he added.
Ms Ryan previously acted as advisor to the board from January until mid-summer and was then appointed project manager at Mr Murray’s instigation in August, before being appointed CEO.
Her links to former EU president Pat Cox have raised eyebrows, and Minister of State Brian Hayes has added his voice to the growing chorus of those asking questions, saying it was “somewhat strange that a post like this could be given like this without an advertisement and without effectively other people going for the job”.
A special purpose vehicle as a limited company was recently set up to manage the year and any appointment to it would be in accordance with the pay structures of local government, the manager said. He also dismissed reports that the position came with a salary of €170,000.
“I know what the appointment process is like, in the context of any public service, it takes three to four months in order to gain that appointment,” said Mr Murray.
“We didn’t have the luxury of four months,” he added.
The manager said that the “an unwarranted focus on City of Culture” was affecting the chances of securing funding to supplement the €6m given by Government.
“There is intensive work ongoing to bring additional spend to the programme for 2014. The kind of focus that we have had for the last number of days is not helping,” he said.
Neither Ms Ryan nor Mr Cox have commented on the controversy since it began.