Fine Gael is at the centre of more ‘cronyism’ allegations after a leading public relations company with close links to Prime Minister Enda Kenny won a lucrative government contract.
According to the Irish Independent, Fleishman Hillard was awarded the big money deal with state training agency FAS as Fine Gael swept to power.
Minister Ruairi Quinn has insisted to the paper that he had nothing to do with the appointment.
But opposition members of parliament have raised questions due to the link between Fleishman Hillard head of consulting Mark Mortell and Fine Gael leader and Prime Minister Kenny.
The paper reports that Mortell was one of the architects of Fine Gael’s historic election victory as a key adviser to Kenny and also played a ‘critical role’ in the coalition negotiations with the Labour Party.
The decision to award the $400,000 contract was made on February 25, the day of the general election, and the FAS board was notified on March 1, just days before Fine Gael and Labour agreed a coalition deal.
Opposition parties have accused Fine Gael of picking up state contracts as the party prepared for power.
Mortell however insisted to the Irish Independent that: “There was no cronyism involved in the process. There were no strokes pulled here.”
He added that he had no part in the competition for the contract as he was on leave of absence at the time from Fleishman Hilliard to work with Fine Gael.
FAS director-general Paul O’Toole, a friend of Mortell since their time working together at Bord Failte, was a member of the team that awarded the contract.
“I know my name was probably included in the pitch process because I would know Paul O’Toole fairly well,” added Mortell.
“There’s no cronyism story here. I make no secret about what my business is. I’ve worked in Fleishman Hillard for the last nine or 10 years but we haven’t been in a position where Fine Gael has been in
Government so we’re in slightly new territory here for me in that respect.
“There was another team pretty much involved in it. Obviously, my relationship, because I knew Paul, was included in the mix but there’s no funny games going on here.
“I can understand how Fianna Fail would try and say now friends of Fine Gael are taking advantage of
Fine Gael being in Government but there were no strokes pulled.”
Michael McGrath, Fianna Fail spokesman on public spending and financial-sector reform, was critical of the move.
“While in opposition, Fine Gael was very vocal about state contracts awarded to companies whose senior management had any connection whatever with Fianna Fail,” said McGrath.
“Now the shoe is on the other foot and this appears to be a very lucrative contract awarded by FAS to a company among whose directors is somebody who was very much to the fore of the election campaign.”