Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Ex-quango man signs up with hotel firm

Invest NI manager now chief executive

A senior figure from the hotel-funding wing of a Government agency has moved into a top job with a leading Ulster hotelier, it can be revealed today.

A senior figure from the hotel-funding wing of a Government agency has moved into a top job with a leading Ulster hotelier, it can be revealed today.

Gareth Kirk is now chief executive of Andras House, the property development giant headed by prominent businessman Lord Rana.

He has stated that the last hotel development grant received by Andras House was in the late 1990s.

Mr Kirk was a manager within the tourism support section of quango Invest NI and, prior to that, was investment director at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

Mr Kirk's division of the Tourist Board - responsible for allocating grant-aid - was transferred into Invest NI's operations in 2002.

Invest NI employees are not classed as civil servants and are not affected by any rules on civil servants moving into the business world.

A spokesperson for the quango today said: "Invest NI approval is not required for employees to take up a position in the private sector. However, Mr Kirk did make management aware of, and discussed, his intentions."

Mr Kirk told the Belfast Telegraph that he secured the Andras House job after a "rigorous" competitive process, which was handled by consultants.

He pointed out that he had never been the client executive with responsibility for Andras House at either the Tourist Board or Invest NI.

The person who filled this role would have been answerable to him as part of the chain of command, he said.

Mr Kirk said his job meant he would have been very aware of Andras House's business.

"I could say exactly the same for any client within the hotel or tourism sector - I would have known their business exceptionally well," he stated.

Mr Kirk said the final say on grants would have been made above his position.

He said Andras House's last such grant related to the Ramada Hotel in south Belfast, and the company has no live applications currently with Invest NI.

Mr Kirk is the second person from a public sector background to join the Andras House top team this year.

John McConnell, former acting chief of the Department of the Environment's Planning Service, is now a director with the hotel company.

This newspaper revealed in August that the DoE was still assessing Mr McConnell's application for approval to accept private sector work - several months after he had joined Lord Rana's company.

A spokesman for the Department today said the matter was still being addressed.

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