The regular audience on here will know that one of the few targets for unrelenting criticism is the National Consumer Agency (NCA), which was until October 2012 headed by CEO, Ann FitzGerald. The reason for the animus is simple – our economy has collapsed with a 10% contraction in GDP/GNP, unemployment has rocketed to 15%, households have been hit with tax hikes, levies and stealth taxes and of course we’re in an IMF programme. Remember the vast price inflation in the 2000s, particularly after the introduction of the Euro and excesses of the property-led latter phase of the Celtic Tiger? Well, you would expect this price rises to be reversed with the economy collapsing. But as you know only too well, prices haven’t really dropped very much at all. So the budget adjustment which will necessarily involve some degree of austerity hasn’t been very much cushioned by reductions in prices.
And I blame Ann FitzGerald.
The NCA will tell you it has no major role in pushing down prices, and its standard response if you complain about high prices is “shop around” – we really don’t need a quango to tell us that. The NCA has failed this country and failed it badly. This is evidenced by the Eurostat monitoring of prices for consumer goods and services, the latest annual report on which is for 2011 and shows that for the selected basket of goods and services, Irish consumers are paying 17% more than the EU27 average whilst in the UK, they are paying just 2% more. Here are the latest figures from Eurostat for 2011.
In 2010, our prices were 18% greater than the EU27 average so there has been some very modest movement. At the same time in 2010, our per capita GNP in Ireland was just 2.7% above the EU27 average. In 2007 by contrast, it was 27% above the EU27 average. So our incomes have declined but prices have stayed high.
Again I blame Ann FitzGerald.
So in June 2011 when Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation Richard Burton announced that he was merging the NCA with the Competition Authority, there was a ray of hope that at last Ireland was going to do something about our high prices. Over a year later, the NCA still hasn’t been merged with the Competition Authority – it’s “imminent” apparently – but in October 2012, Ann FitzGerald’s contract expired at the NCA and she notified the board of the NCA that she was stepping down.
Grand, I wish her well with her future endeavours.
But did she get a payment from the public purse to ease her exit? Given that her contract had expired and her organisation is merging with the Competition Authority, you wouldn’t have expected there to have been any reward for not renewing her contract. But Minister Bruton has refused to confirm if any reward was paid. In a response to the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, Minister Bruton said it’s a matter for that Agency, he says. But the NCA is 100% owned and funded by us, so surely we have an interest in how its decisions, particularly if those decisions cost us money and particularly if ex-gratia and unnecessary payments were made.
Passing the buck for agencies under their control is becoming a hallmark of this administration. “That would be an operational matter” is fast becoming as mainstream as “that would be an ecumenical matter” for stymieing attempts to hold this administration to account.
The full parliamentary question and response is here:
Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation further to reports that the Chief Executive Office of the National Consumer Agency Ms Ann Fitzgerald was stepping down in October 2012 at the expiry of her contract, if he will confirm that Ms Fitzgerald no longer works for the NCA and to confirm if any termination payments were made to Ms Fitzgerald or if enhancements were made to future benefits payable to Ms Fitzgerald; and if so, if he will quantify such arrangements..
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton: Ms Fitzgerald advised the Board of the National Consumer Agency of her intention to step down as Chief Executive on the expiry of her contract on the 17th October 2012. Therefore, Ms Fitzgerald is no longer employed by the Agency. Issues in relation to the terms and conditions of Ms Fitzgerald’s employment as Chief Executive are matters for the Agency.