The Kerins Saga: A Symptom of Wider Systemic Problems

The media’s tendency to orient its reporting towards single events and reduce broad public issues to concrete occurrences – in what is a journalistic practice known as episodic framing (1) (2) – is always in danger of negating the wider implications. This practice is reinforced by a pervasive individualizing perspective of which mainstream media is often guilty. Not to take away from his own large contribution, the media’s eulogizing of Nelson Mandela, for example, on many occasions appeared to reduce the entire anti-apartheid struggle to just one man. The recent shift in attention towards the excessive remuneration package of the CEO of Rehab, Angela Kerins, is another case in point. There is a danger in this evolving narrative of reducing a systemic issue concerning management salaries, particularly amongst the charity sector, to Kerins and the Rehab group. This is an issue that extends well beyond Kerins and even beyond the remit of the Public Accounts Committee. Let’s not forget that this widespread excessive remuneration of large charity CEOs and board members is indicative of the colonization by the business management value system of an arena wherein the common good, social justice, and moral values should prevail (i.e., new managerialism). In this managerialist world it seems leadership is a path to entitlement and managerial prowess is defined by excessive remuneration packages and not as it should be: via the successful distribution of assistance to those who need it most.

So while some in the media begin to lose sight of the underlying systemic narrative to Angela Kerin’s individual remuneration package let us not forget that lurking in the background is the following:

1) a financial survey of 40 leading Irish charities by the Irish Independent in 2013 found that “at least 14 of the country’s top charity bosses are earning salaries of over €100,000”. Angela Kerins salary was recently revealed to be 240,000, plus 6% contribution to her defined contribution pension. By the way, annual earnings of €75,000 places you in the nation’s top 10% of income earners.

2) The strategies of boardroom infiltration and political cronyism that play a powerful part in propping up executive elites in this country. Kerins has been found to have had strong connections to the FF and FG parties:

she once stood for the party’s national executive, in the early 1990s…From 2000 onwards, she was appointed to various boards by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat governments … just a few weeks ago, she formed part of a trade mission to the Middle East led by the Taoiseach

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/disability-chief-who-attracts-controversy-and-kudos-in-equal-measure-1.1664669

Kerins also has good contacts within Fine Gael as she worked closely in Rehab with party strategist, Frank Flannery, whom she replaced as chief executive in recent years.

http://www.villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2014/01/profile-of-angela-kerins-march-09/

Such political affiliations are mirrored by how board members of the Central Remedial Clinic – another agency in the charitable sector, whose executive division were topping up their pay from public donations – were found to have strong ties with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Remember also that the CRC has ties to the Rehab group. Kiely, James Nugent, and Hamilton Goulding who were board members of both the CRC and the Friends and Supporters of the Central Remedial Clinic Limited, the CRC’s charity arm, were also Care Trust directors. 50% of the Care Trust Ltd is owned by Rehab. The Care Trust Ltd provided the bulk of income for Friends and Supporters who in turn have granted an “interest-free and not repayable in the short term” €3 million loan to the CRC directors.  Such boardroom infiltration and, what appear to be, cross management strategies were widespread throughout the Celtic Tiger period. Some directors were even found to have been on the remuneration committees that decided the pay for directors who in turn were on remuneration committees deciding the pay of those same directors. We have yet to hear the names of those who sat on Kerins’ remuneration committee.

3) The research of pay consultants Hay Group and Towers Watson has been used by Rehab to support the claim that, despite Kerin’s excessive salary within a charitable organization and in a time of austerity, is “significantly below the market midpoint or “median” when compared with organisations of similar scale engaged in similar activities”. Towers Watson are also the international recruitment agency who advised Rehab before Kerins was granted her pay rise of €6,000 – a salary increase that occurred since 2011 during a time of cutbacks. Towers Watson has been criticised in the US for its role in expanding executive payment packages over there. It was accused of digging “through their trove of privileged pay data to find other companies that can serve as “peer benchmarks” to justify the proposed raise — regardless of whether the other companies are truly similar”. Hopefully we’ll learn more on the Towers Watson report if the Public Accounts Committee succeed in gaining access to it. However, if what Rehab claim is true then surely some discussion really needs to take place regarding the growing power and profligacy of a management class and the capacity and influence of management towards self-legitimation and its own remuneration. It is also worth bearing in mind that these excessive salaries are occurring at a time when the gap between the rich and poor is reported to have dramatically widened since 2008 – this finding is based on levels of disposable income with cuts to services and increased charges included in the calculations.

4) Furthermore, the top-ups scandal of the CRC, which preceded the current Kerins scandal has in many ways been repeated by government members as they exceeded the supposed pay caps of their advisors: although not sourced from charitable donations these ‘top ups’ must also come out of public money.

5) The service-provisioning aspect of the charity sector is already depoliticizing in that, rather than advocating for real social change, it tends to act as a band-aid for the many inadequacies of the state’s regulatory and welfare role. The presence of a business management mindset, along with a pervasion of cosy remunerations, throughout this area of civil society, likely contributes to this depolitization encouraging people to see their role as fulfilling a job, providing a service, bowing to Government interests, directions and lip-service. Real change is negated in such an atmosphere. Consider the servility demanded of NGOs during social partnership times with funding arrangements favouring organisations that withheld from criticising the government – the latter coming under the phrase of “‘non-adversarial partnerships’” as used by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) (a government advisory group)  in 2005 (3).  Now compare that to the role played by Kerins as chairwoman of the Equality Authority when cuts were announced plunging the authority’s budget from €6 million to €3.3 million:

Having spoken publicly of the need to retain the resources necessary to do its work effectively, Ms Kerins later appeared to accept the budget cut and was less than generous in her praise of Crowley [its chief executive] when he did the honourable thing and resigned. His departure was followed by those of six board members including Therese Murphy of the National Women’s Council, Frank Goodwin of the Carers’ Association, two representatives from IBEC, and two trade union appointees.

http://www.villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2014/01/profile-of-angela-kerins-march-09/

Kerins stayed on and has been criticised as “blindly enforcing government policy, in political circles she was seen as a safe pair of hands”.

So something seems far from right regarding civil society and the charity sector, along with professional management, political affiliations and executive remuneration. The Kerins scandal should be seen in light of the system it is in. The list provided above points to systemic matters and a systemic problem; the grasp of which risks being lost if the media reduces the perspective on the issue to the individual Angela Kerins. Reprimanding one Angela Kerins – cathartic and all as it would surely feel – is not going to solve it. A radical systemic overhaul on the other hand? Well who knows, but for the sake of a proper democracy and a well-informed society it is definitely worth discussing.

 

1. Iyengar S (1994) Is Anyone Responsible?: How Television Frames Political Issues. London: University of Chicago Press.

2. Boykoff M T (2009) We Speak for the Trees: Media Reporting on the Environment. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 34 (1): 431-457.

3. Kirby P (2010) Civil society, social movements and the Irish state. Irish Journal of Sociology 18 (2): 1-21.

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