You probably didn’t hear about it, but the National Transport Authority (NTA) gained six new board members on 24 September.
The appointments weren’t so much announced, as registered on pages 12 to 13 of a state board report on the Department of Transport website.
It’s a document that, let’s be honest, not a lot of people read.
Which has left some transport-policy watchers a touch befuddled. “It’s curious that this has been done on a very low-key basis,” says Green Party Dublin city councillor Ciaran Cuffe.
Not only was the announcement low-key, it was skimpy on details. Despite guidelines that say departments must explain who new board members are and why they’re qualified, all we got was a list of names.
Long Time Coming
The appointments have been a while coming. Five of the NTA’s 12 board seats have been empty since November 2014 when the “independently appointed” board members’ terms expired.
In February this year, Valerie O’Reilly, another board member, and the former press adviser to TD Michael Lowry, also left, which meant there were six spots vacant.
You might remember the speculation around whether O’Reilly would be reappointed. The Independent independent.ie/irish-news/politics/not-bad-looking-but-nta-woman-has-worst-record-30954016.html”>reported at the time that she was the subject of a note intercepted in the Dail, as it was passed from Lowry to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, which asked him to consider reappointing her, suggested that she was “not bad looking”.
Despite this recommendation, O’Reilly was not reappointed. And it took until 24 September to fill the six positions on the NTA’s board, meaning that most of these seats were vacant for about 11 months.
By why, you ask, should you care?
Here are a few reasons why it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the NTA. For starters, the NTA is a crucial source of funding for Dublin City Council projects.
Between 2010 and 2015, the NTA provided €97 million to fund cycling and walking schemes, road resurfacing and bus infrastructure in Dublin city.
In the Dublin City Centre Transport Study, a collaboration between Dublin City Council and the NTA, the NTA promises another €150 million to DCC for similar projects.
The board of the NTA oversees the authority’s management and makes big decisions that affect how people will move around the city, as well as the country, well into the future. The board also makes sure the NTA is using taxpayers’ money responsibly by investing in projects that will deliver serious social benefits to citizens.
If you expected important decisions to have been delayed until the empty board positions had been filled, you would have been wrong. According to the minutes of meetings during that period, some super important decisions were made.
In June, the matters discussed included: “The future of the DART Underground project, which will be the subject of a report to be presented by the NTA to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for decision.”
This past May, the agenda included shaping key documents such as the Draft Transport Strategy for Greater Dublin Area and the Dublin City Centre Transport Study.
You’d think that a full board to offer experienced oversight would be crucial to making such important decisions.
So, back to the news of these recent new board members. Who are they? What makes them great for the board? What can we expect from them?
If the Department of Transport followed the newish guidelines for appointments to state boards, it would be easy to give a run-down at this point of who the new members are and what their qualifications are for the jobs.
That’s because one of the rules is that, at the time of new appointments, departments should publish details of the new members (“for example in the press release announcing the new member(s)”); in particular, the reasons that the people appointed meet the criteria determined by the relevant minister for the roles.
To date, though, just the names have been released which makes it hard to be certain who the new board members are. There’s Ann Fitzgerald, Fiona Ross, Frank Gleeson, Frank O’Connor, Pat Mangan, and Sinead Walsh.
Fiona Ross has been helpful and updated her LinkedIn profile with the new post, and confirmed she is the Fiona Ross that has been appointed.
Her profile lists her as a board member of the National Library of Ireland, a non-executive director at The National Archives in the UK, and the non-executive director at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in the UK. She’s also the founding director of EPIC Ireland, a planned new museum at the CHQ building in Dublin.
But it has been difficult to confirm the identities of the other board members. And we haven’t yet
We have yet to get a response from Fine Gael Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe’s office as to who these folks are.
Jackie Mullen, who answered our query on behalf of the NTA, said we should know by early next week. The new board’s first meeting is due on 16 October, she said.
“We are currently putting together some information for our website and will be publishing it shortly,” Mullen said.