TAOISEACH Brian Cowen and his six remaining government ministers made a collective decision at last Tuesday's cabinet meeting to fill all vacancies on state boards before they leave office.
The Sunday Tribune has learned that the weakened cabinet – consisting of just seven Fianna Fáil ministers – made the decision just 48 hours after the Greens pulled out of government.
A comprehensive list of all state boards was compiled for the cabinet by civil servants in each of the 15 government departments and the ministers then decided to fill any vacancies in the period between that meeting and the new government coming into office.
The decision to 'stuff the state boards' is expected to stir controversy over the coming days ahead of Brian Cowen dissolving the Dáil on Tuesday. Even though the Dáil will be dissolved, the existing cabinet remains in office until after the election and a new government is formed so the contentious political appointments will be made before Cowen's government leave office.
The government faced the wrath of opposition TDs such as Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar in recent weeks after it emerged that it made 90 appointments to state boards during the Dáil Christmas recess. A further 48 appointments were made by the government in the 10 days from 14-25 January. Of those 48 appointments, 25 of them were made by Cowen.
Details of the appointments over Christmas and since then were revealed in replies to parliamentary questions from Varadkar. Earlier this month, the Dublin West TD accused Fianna Fáil ministers of "stuffing" state bodies with "political appointees" and Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins later called on him to apologise for allegations of cronyism in the appointments.
Calls from Varadkar for an overhaul of the system to make it more transparent, through open advertisement and scrutiny by a Dáil committee, were echoed by the small businesses group Isme in recent days.
Isme has advocated that an independent commission to appoint people to state boards should be set up to prevent "political cronyism".
Varadkar told the Sunday Tribune yesterday: "If this is true, it is disappointing but it is not surprising as it is true to form in the way this government has governed.
"It is our intention to replace all state boards within a year and replace the existing system with a more transparent mechanism."
Following the Green Party's announcement on 22 November that it was going to pull out of government, it was reported that the government was to make almost 300 appointments to state boards before it leaves office.