Members of a Stormont watchdog committee have called on Translink's boss to consider her position after she failed to attend a meeting over a 24% pay rise for train drivers.
Catherine Mason was heavily criticised by the Regional Development Committee after she opted to go to a long-standing family engagement instead.
A spokeswoman for Ms Mason — Northern Ireland’s highest paid public sector official with a salary package totalling £198,000 — had told the Belfast Telegraph on Monday that she was “on leave” and “happy with her decision not to attend” the special session.
Committee chair Jimmy Spratt — who rearranged cancer treatment to be at the hearing — said there was “universal disapproval” for her decision.
He said: “I was supposed to have chemotherapy at 9am today so I don't think it's a hardship for someone on £200,000
to come along to the committee and explain what's going on.”
A Translink spokeswoman said she would not disclose the details of its CEO’s family commitments, adding that she didn’t “think that’s anybody’s business”.
She said: “The meeting was about the proposed agreement on pay and Translink was represented by chief operating officer Phillip O’Neil.”
MLAs said Ms Mason’s comments about being “happy with her decision not to attend” represented “extreme arrogance”.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said he was disappointed at Ms Mason's no-show, pointing out that he could have been meeting the prime minister instead. He added: “Anyone who puts a family commitment before appearing at this committee needs to consider their position.”
Ciaran Doran, from the Department for Regional Development (DRD), said the 24% offer to the train drivers had to be put in the context of 20 new trains being introduced to Northern Ireland in the next year, which would include an improved timetable.
Mr O'Neill said the pay offer was based on changes to drivers' terms and conditions which would offer greater flexibility in terms of their rosters. “In return for more pay, drivers will be doing more,” he added.
Mr O'Neill said that he was confident about Translink's business case for the pay offer and that it could fund it.
Independent MLA David McNarry said that he had heard the pay offer was a “done deal” and warned Translink that it should not presume it would get “royal assent” from the committee.
Mr Spratt said the fact that the committee had still not seen Translink’s business case was “absolutely disgraceful”.
Translink's next three-year plan has revealed the company expects to move into the red after this year.
It has also announced that fares will go up by an average of 3%.
It is anticipated that Translink will make a profit of £2m this year (2012-2013) but will then start to make significant losses with a deficit of £11.6m expected in 2013-2014, and £10.5m the following year (2014-15).
These losses are expected even after assuming the Department for Regional Development would provide additional in-year funding for rail services of £5m and £10m in the respective loss-making years.
Catherine Mason took up the position of Group chief |executive of Translink in March 2008. She worked previously as MD of Arriva Midlands (UK) and commercial |director of CrossCountry trains. She was previously a marketer. She graduated from the University of Liverpool with a BSc in Genetics and has an MBA from Henley.