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PAC hears IFI “halfway between Ballymagash and Killinascully”!

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From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

PAC hears IFI “halfway between Ballymagash and Killinascully”! PAC hears IFI “halfway between Ballymagash and Killinascully”!

Bradley Bytes- a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

Francis O’Donnell, the Chief Executive of Inland Fisheries Ireland, has highlighted the stark decline of fish species on Irish inshore waterways.

In the year he was born, 1971, some 1.2 million wild salmon returned to Ireland. Last year, that had reduced by 86% to 171,000, he said.

Arctic char, as old as the country itself, was extinct on Lough Conn in Mayo, and faced similar fates in other lakes. Freshwater eels are under threat, too.

And wild brown trout lakes are “disappearing due to the introduction of non-native species and the pollution associated with excessive farming practices”, O’Donnell said.

It was a frightening vista, set out at the start of IFI’s appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

If that’s all you’d read or heard of the July session, you’d be outraged Government hadn’t acceded to requests for more resources. But the more the Oireachtas members probed, the more the whiff of something rotten at IFI filled our nostrils.

Waterford Green TD, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, told PAC he had asked someone before the meeting where IFI was headquartered. “The reply I got was that it was halfway between Ballymagash and Killinascully,” he said.

“That is not a good look for an organisation that is making a case for increased staffing and funding,” Ó Cathasaigh said.

What emerged during the PAC hearing proved the IFI was on another planet entirely to the fictional villages of comedy shows – and the joke was on the taxpayer.

Ó Cathasaigh listed the problems. Lapsed insurance policies for IFI vehicles that went unnoticed until there was a crash. Invasive species allowed to get out of hand. Property-leasing arrangements to staff that were “loose at best”. IFI corporate governance structures “in freefall”. Mass resignations from a “non-quorate and non-functioning” board.

“There have been a series of internal reports, protected disclosures, a Garda investigation relating to serious allegations of fraud. There are questions about dormant accounts funding. We have a sense that taxpayers’ money is being thrown around like snuff at a wake,” Ó Cathasaigh said.

There was “something fishy” happening, and the taxpayer “will be left on the hook”.

Mayo Fine Gael TD, Alan Dillon was robust too. So much so, Mr O’Donnell pleaded: “I am being badgered here. I think it is unfair.”

That related to Dillon’s allegation of a “cosy arrangement”, a term disputed by the IFI CE, over his official place of work, which was changed during Covid-19 through an “absolutely ridiculous” arrangement that Dillon claimed cost taxpayers €5,000.

Dillon said the IFI was at PAC because of “incompetence, poor governance and disregard towards taxpayers’ money”.

But O’Donnell hit back against allegations from the former footballer that he was not credible. “I think we are being very credible. We are being very open and we are being very honest to the committee,” he insisted.

Roisin Bradley, head of HR, said staff at IFI “go above and beyond every day”.

“What they find so difficult is that all of this has been playing out in the media . . . it has tarnished the jobs they do. It has been very difficult,” she said.

It has been difficult, no doubt. But most of the 300 staff at IFI know  where the blame for this debacle lies . . . and it’s not with media.

Photo: Former Mayo footballer, Alan Dillon, now a Mayo TD pictured tackling Galway midfielder Niall Coleman at the Connacht senior football championship final at McHale Park, Castlebar in 2008. The Fine Gael deputy tackled Inland Fisheries Ireland officials at the Public Accounts Committee before the Dáil recess.

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