Irish nominee to EU court rejected over debt error

AP News
Posted: Nov 23, 2011 2:09 PM
Irish nominee to EU court rejected over debt error

European lawmakers narrowly rejected Ireland's nominee to the European Court of Auditors on Wednesday after deeming him responsible for a euro3.6 billion ($5 billion) error in calculating the Irish national debt.

The Budgetary Control Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels rejected Kevin Cardiff, the senior civil servant in Ireland's Finance Department, after he faced an hourlong grilling. The Irish government had endorsed him for a job paying euro276,000 ($370,000) a year.

But lawmakers questioned his department's failure to spot a 2010 accounting error that overstated Ireland's national debt by euro3.6 billion. Finance Department officials were told about the mistake repeatedly over the past year, but admitted and corrected the goof only this month.

The lawmakers rejected Cardiff's nomination in a 12-11 vote _ the first such defeat of a candidate since the formation of the Court of Auditors in 1975. They approved candidates from seven other EU countries for appointment to the Luxembourg-based court, which audits EU finances.

Several lawmakers told Cardiff they had received an unprecedented deluge of emails from Ireland appealing for them to block his nomination.

Cardiff said he understood Irish anger over the government's handling of its debt and banking crisis, which forced the country to accept a euro67.5 billion ($92 billion) bailout last year.

Cardiff said he was a target of that anger because he is one of the few key figures still involved in Ireland's government who helped to forge the country's ill-fated 2008 bank guarantee scheme. It failed to stop Irish banks from hemorrhaging cash and led to Ireland's mass bailout of six banks at a cost expected to exceed euro70 billion.

He also faced critical questioning over his claim, when facing questions from Irish lawmakers in Dublin, that the EU court job would be "a doddle" compared to his work as secretary general of the Finance Department.

Cardiff explained Wednesday that the EU job would be comparatively less challenging than his work since 2008 in trying to help save Ireland from bankruptcy.

"By comparison to the four years of sheer battling, the nights in which you wake up wondering if you made a mistake that would cost a billion or would make a billion _ I thought it would be easier," Cardiff testified. "I certainly was not suggesting that the job of the Court of Auditors would be easy."