FORMER First Active chairman John Callaghan is chairing the fledgling health insurance company headed by the former VHI chief executive and backed by billionaire financier Dermot Desmond.

Centura Health Administration, which plans to open for business later this month or early in July, suffered a setback when Bank of Ireland dropped its backing for the company. But it is understood Centura is still on track to break the duopoly of stateowned VHI and British firm Bupa, which entered the Irish market in 1997.

"The company is in negotiations with a number of financial institutions, both locally and internationally, " a spokeswoman said. She said Centura planned to use a different trading name when it comes to market but declined to say what that would be.

Contacted at home on Friday evening, Callaghan refused to comment on his appointment as Centura chairman. A former managing partner at accountants KPMG, Callaghan helped to negotiate the .887m sale of First Active to Royal Bank of Scotland, which owns Ulster Bank, late last year.

Disagreement over the terms on offer are believed to have contributed to his surprise decision not to join the board of Ulster Bank once the acquisition was complete.

He was paid .130,000 a year by First Active to be a non-executive chairman and received a .1.26m windfall when Ulster Bank took over the former building society.

He has been a FA director since 1993, taking over the chairman's job in 1999.

He led the mortgage bank through a stormy shareholder revolt, sparked by a flagging share price, and a board upheaval that included the ousting of chief executive John Smith and most of the bank's senior management.

Callaghan also led First Active through unsuccessful merger discussions with Anglo Irish Bank in 2000.