Overtime payments were checked and passed by civil servants - Andrew McGuinness

Cllr Andrew McGuinness
Over the last six weeks there has been national media comment surrounding the construction of offices in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for a minister and three staff, and, on a much smaller scale, the purchase and quality of toilet rolls, all of which they suggested my father was responsible for.

Over the last six weeks there has been national media comment surrounding the construction of offices in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for a minister and three staff, and, on a much smaller scale, the purchase and quality of toilet rolls, all of which they suggested my father was responsible for.

That has now been revealed as totally incorrect. Similar media coverage also questioned my overtime and expenses during the time my father was a minister. These can be easily explained by the fact that a key staff member in Kilkenny was on maternity leave at a time when the work load was enormous and John was often away.

I hope the answers below provide sufficient information to assuage any concerns people may have regarding these matters. A clip showing the responses of Claire McGrath, Chairman of the Office of Public Works, when she was questioned about the office can be found on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjJTSqI0FJ8

Q. Why did your father employ you?

A. Experience, confidentiality and competence. He was confident that I could do the work to the standard required and was prepared for, and used to, the unsocial hours, often involving weekends, that politics requires. I was qualified to do the work, which required a number of skills. I had spent some years working as a journalist and was a member of the NUJ and I was a member of Kilkenny Borough Council. I had considerable experience of dealing with constituency work and I could do the research required by a minister’s office. On his appointment, my father needed immediately someone he could trust and depend on and, because we had worked together for many years, he chose me. Children everywhere often follow in the footsteps of their parents when choosing their careers. I am no different. But, as children everywhere will know, working for a parent can be difficult!

Q. Why so much overtime in 2008?

A. The work in our already busy constituency office more than doubled when my father was made a minister and coupled with department work from his office, the task was considerable. During that year, a very competent member of our staff was on maternity leave and there was lengthy delays and difficulty getting the staff we needed from the department, on top of which there were IT problems -all documented in the book my father published in 2010. My father was frequently abroad on government business and was grappling with new responsibilities, and a department under considerable pressure to react to problems in the economy. The figure for 2008 is high because we were understaffed, my father and the office were under pressure and, in consequence, the hours we were working were very long.

Q. Your father signed off on your hours and rates?

A. Not true. The civil service signed off on my hours and rates, and I was paid according to the civil service rates that applied six years ago, and tax was deducted.

Q. But you were a member of Kilkenny County Council and Kilkenny Borough Council at that time?

A. Only partly true. I was a member of Kilkenny Borough Council. I was not elected to Kilkenny County Council until June 2009 and my father was not a minister then.

Q. Why no desk in Dublin?

A. I really do not understand the point of this question, because I worked mainly from the constituency office in Kilkenny, although I travelled regularly between there and the Dublin office. When required, a desk and all other facilities were available to me in the minister’s office in Dublin used by my father, two clerical staff and his parliamentary secretary, all civil servants.

Q. Is there anything further you would like to add?

A. I behaved properly. My overtime was particularly high for one year, because there was a huge work load and we were understaffed. We spent long hours, including weekends, meeting commitments and dealing with backlogs.

I know people are concerned, and they have a right to an explanation, but this happened six years ago and anyone in Carlow/Kilkenny, and indeed beyond, who visited the constituency office or was in contact with my father during that time will know how hard we were working and how seriously we take our responsibility to the people we represent. Indeed, that work continues today, unabated.

I believe that all of this publicity was an attempt to discredit my father and undermine his position as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, where he is thorough and effective, which may not suit those who would prefer a less determined approach.

We have had stories about toilet rolls, the purchase of which, it turns out, had nothing to do with him; an office complex, the construction of which, it is now very clear, he had no hand, act or part in and was not responsible for. And now my overtime, which was properly earned, checked by and paid over by independent civil servants, is being included in the hope that it will somehow damage him.

John McGuinness is enormously proud to be representing Carlow/Kilkenny. He does that work with energy, commitment and integrity. The true reason for this attack must surely be to prevent him from standing up and speaking out. We know in Kilkenny, if you’re scoring, there will be someone trying hard to stop you. He has answered his critics in the best possible manner: by allowing independent, informed, third parties to provide factual information, which clearly shows that he has no case to answer. You can see video footage of the OPW taking full responsibility for the spend on constructing offices for ministers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjJTSqI0FJ8. I believe that I have also answered any questions raised about my own employment with the department during that period. I want to conclude by saying this was in 2008 and my father’s term as minister ended in 2009.

Summary

- The Secretary General of the OPW has confirmed that John McGuinness had no responsibility for the design or cost of the office allocated to him. She advises that it was done and furnished to the standards then applying to the officers of all ministers and to building work in a listed building. Furthermore, she also confirmed that the toilet rolls being used were standard across all departments.

- Believing it to be the correct course of action, John McGuinness privately requested The Comptroller and Auditor General and The Standards in Office Commission to investigate his involvement, if any, in the design and cost of the office. They both declined.

The overtime claimed by Andrew McGuinness during the 18 months John McGuinness was a minister, arose because his constituency office was understaffed, due to a staff member’s maternity leave, and difficulties with the department over the provision of a replacement. This at a time when the work more than doubled and John McGuinness was working himself into a new, demanding job, in a department under pressure, where the IT system between it and his constituency office was not operating properly. The hours claimed were correct, were checked and passed by independent civil servants and were paid using civil service rates at that time. They were exceptional only because the circumstances surrounding the need for them were exceptional.