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Talk is cheap. Sometimes. In the case of the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA), debate around Brexit could have been pretty expensive for the taxpayer.
The Dublin think-tank, based on North Great Georges Street, floated an idea with the Department of Foreign Affairs last year to create an external “IIEA Brexit hub”. It was proposed as a forum for private company executives and public servants to share insights and strategies on how to respond to the UK’s exit from the EU.
It would play “a leading role in achieving cross-sectoral collaboration”, suggested Ruairí Quinn, IIEA chairman and former Labour Party leader, in an April 2017 letter to the department. Stressing the threat facing the State in hyperbolic terms, Quinn warned that Brexit presents “the greatest existential threat Ireland has faced in peace time”.
The rub came in the appendices. The proposed budget for the hub, earmarked for a building on Merrion Square to be nearer to Government Buildings, would require €250,000 a year in public funding, matched with €250,000 from 10 private companies.
The bulk of the annual budget, close to €300,000 would go on “salaries, wages and consultancy” for staff. The hub’s proposed director, Donal de Buitléir, a former public official and one-time senior AIB official, would be paid €66,000 a year, according to the IIEA’s outline budget for 2017.
Two other staff members, IIEA communications director Hannah Deasy and chief economist Dan O’Brien (a former economics editor of The Irish Times) would have their respective pay of €58,000 and €44,300 covered, while almost €30,000 of the €119,000 remuneration paid to IIEA director general Barry Andrews would fall under the hub’s budget.
The department had its reservations about the hub, believing that it already did much of the work the proposed hub would do, and that such an initiative was best funded by private companies. Andrews told Cantillon that the proposal was “an attempt to be proportionate in our response to the degree of the threat”.
In the end the IIEA, which has an annual budget of €800,000 to €1 million (15 per cent of which comes from public sources), kept the hub in-house and funded it from its own members.
The department is funding a separate IIEA project on the future of the remaining 27 EU member states at a cost of €250,000 per year for three years, so it is not completely off the hook.