A former Irish ambassador to the U.S., Dermot Gallagher, is at the center of controversy over his appointment as head of a police "watchdog" body just days after his retirement from the civil service. Gallagher, ambassador in Washington between 1991 and 1997, retired as secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs on January 26 with a tax-free lump-sum "golden handshake" payment of €378,000 and an annual pension of €126,000. On February 4, nine days after his retirement, he was appointed chairman of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), an independent statutory body which investigates complaints against Gardai. He was appointed to replace Justice Kevin Haugh, who died suddenly on January 29. The post could mean another €150,000 a year for 64-year-Gallagher on top of his pension, and would provide him with annual earnings above those of President Obama. But Gallagher this week said he had not even discussed the salary for his new post. He said he was initially reluctant to accept the job and told the Irish Independent that he could yet decide to do it "pro bono," at zero cost to the taxpayer. "I think everybody has to make a serious contribution in the current climate. I certainly would be prepared to do not just my bit, but significantly more than that," he said. "Quite seriously, I am not interested in the money." Gallagher said he was approached to fill the role and had agreed because of his 40 years of public service, and because he felt flattered that his attributes and qualities were held in such esteem. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties(ICCL) criticized the Government for appointing a retired senior civil servant as head of the GSOC. ICCL director Mark Kelly said the appointment should have followed "an open and transparent recruitment process which should accompany any appointment to a body charged with the independent scrutiny of the conduct of agents of the state." Gallagher will be chairman of a three-person commission that also includes former Irish Times editor Conor Brady and former director of Consumer Affairs Carmel Foley. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, who made the appointment, said, "In selecting Dermot Gallagher for the post, the government has chosen someone with a long track record of distinguished service to the state at the highest level, not only in the field of foreign affairs but also in the Department of the Taoiseach.

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