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Vaccine debacle raises questions about credibility of Beacon chief

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The Beacon private hospital is at the centre of a storm for providing coronavirus vaccines to teachers at a private school attended by the children of Michael Cullen, the Beacon’s chief executive. Taoiseach Micheál Martin summed up the public mood on Monday by saying the move was “repugnant”.

Although Mr Cullen has survived the first onslaught of demands for his resignation, he now faces the prospect of a review of the debacle by Eugene McCague, a former managing partner of Arthur Cox solicitors and former member of the board of the Health Service Executive (HSE).

His conduct has already led to severe criticism of the south Dublin hospital, owned by businessman Denis O’Brien, after it supplied the excess vaccines to teachers at St Gerard’s school near Bray. With Covid-19 vaccines in short supply and the rate of infection with the virus still high, the sight of one private institution favouring another with a scarce public commodity was toxic.

“The vaccines belong to the people of Ireland and prioritisation to date has been give to the most vulnerable,” the Taoiseach said.

The Government has already suspended the operation of the vaccination centre at the Beacon as a result of the controversy. The hospital had vaccinated more than 9,000 frontline healthcare workers against Covid-19 to date, and was being run as a vaccination centre on behalf of the HSE.

Previous issues

This was not the first point of conflict with the Beacon over the response to the coronavirus pandemic. As a virulent new Covid-19 strain surged in January, the hospital’s initial refusal to provide additional capacity to the State was heavily criticised by Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE. “It wouldn’t have been a very popular position to have taken,” said one official of the Beacon’s stance, which it ultimately reversed.

The latest accounts for Beacon Medical Group Sandyford Ltd, operator of the hospital, show that it had annual revenues of €142.5 million in 2019 and €17.1 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, a key measure of underlying profit. The pretax profit was €1.8 million. The business had rapidly expanded before the pandemic struck a year ago, having grown revenues from €91.7 million in 2016.

The operating company describes the Beacon as “one of the most advanced hospitals in Europe” with “world-class acute care services” and more than 130,000 patient visits in 2019. But now the vaccination debacle has raised glaring questions over the credibility of the hospital’s top executive, Mr Cullen. He has apologised, but that did not deter calls for his removal in advance of a meeting on Monday of the hospital board.

“Upon completion of the [McCague] review, the non-executive members of the board will consider its findings and will at that time take any necessary actions required,” the Beacon said in a statement.

Mr O’Brien’s stance remains pivotal, although he is not himself on the board. But the directors would have to be conscious of his wishes over a question that has disgorged a cascade of negative publicity on the hospital.

Directors

The directors of Beacon Medical Group Sandyford are: Mr Cullen; Colm Doherty, formerly a top executive at AIB; Dermot Hayes, a close business associate of Mr O’Brien; and John Delaney, an accountant whose interests include a directorship with the Fallon & Byrne food retailer.

A subsidiary company – Beacon Hospital Sandyford Ltd – has a bigger board and its directors include Brian Cowen, the former taoiseach who served as minister for health earlier in his political career.

In addition to Mr Cullen, Mr Doherty and Mr Hayes, the other directors are: Barbara Cotter, a solicitor who was a partner with A&L Goodbody and is chairwoman of the State-owned Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland; Brian Fitzgerald, deputy hospital chief executive; Darragh Kavanagh, chief financial officer for the hospital; Niall Devereux, an associate of Mr O’Brien who formerly worked with his Topaz fuel business as well as with health insurer Bupa; Prof Mark Redmond, medical director of the hospital; and Suzanne Garvey, director of clinical hospital operations.

Yet the dominant figure is Mr O’Brien, who bought the hospital in 2014 after the departure of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, a US private hospital operator.

At the time the purchase was executed by Linkbey, a Jersey company controlled by Mr O’Brien. These days ownership of the hospital is vested in Mr O’Brien’s Isle of Man company Sayum Holdings Corporation, which owns 80 per cent of Beacon Medical Group Sandyford, according to filings. The remaining 20 per cent is held by Beacon Medical Holdings Ltd, whose shareholders include Mr Cullen and Prof Redmond. Other shareholders of this entity include Lucy Gaffney, a close business associate of Mr O’Brien for decades.

At the end of 2019, the Beacon group of hospital companies owed €131 million to Sayum and Beacon Medical Holdings. The group also rents various properties from Mr Cullen and Prof Redmond or their companies and car park spaces from an entity in which they are shareholders.

All eyes now are on Mr McCague.

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Johann van Graan non-committal on prospect of Conor Murray return

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Johann van Graan was somewhat less than adamant that Conor Murray will make his seasonal re-appearance in their United Rugby Championship (URC) fifth round match away to the Ospreys next Saturday night, which is just two weeks out from the first of Ireland’s November test series, with the All Blacks to follow a week later.

“He might possibly be involved next week,” said the Munster head coach after their latest act of escapology to beat Connacht 20-18 at Thomond Park on Saturday night.

Might possibly?

“We’ll see how the week goes. We’ve taken our time with his recovery, so if he comes through the week then we’ll make a call at the back end of the week whether we’re going to select him or not.”

Van Graan assured us that Murray is not injured.

“No, he’s good. He had non-23 training on Friday so really looking forward to getting him involved.”

Van Graan wore the smile of a relieved man after Connacht had pushed them to the wire with a clever, fired-up all-round display in a spicy derby, during which the lead changed hands five times.

“I think if you look at the table, it’s three Irish teams at the top. Connacht are always such a big team in the interpros and you’ve got to give credit to them. Last season they beat all three of the Irish teams away.

“That’s why the players and the coaches and the supporters, and everybody involved loves an interpro, because that’s what you get. It’s not a classic but for the purist it’s a battle.

“That’s what the game is about and that’s why Irish rugby is in such a good place because they have got four top teams and some very good players across the four teams. That was a grind from our side, and proud of the way we finished that with that try and the conversion,” he said in reference to Diarmuid Barron’s 78th minute try and Joey Carbery’s nerveless conversion.

His counterpart, Andy Friend, was left with immense pride in his team’s performance mixed with acute frustration at their infuriating inconsistency and key mistakes, not least at restart receptions, but also the key decisions that went against his team.

Most notable of these was the failure by TMO Brian MacNeice and referee Chris Busby to spot that Tadhg Beirne was clearly in front of the ball before hacking on Rory Scannell’s crosskick in the build-up to Chris Cloete’s 39th minute try.

“I’ve got to be careful here,” he said when asked if he felt Connacht don’t receive a fair rub of the green from officials. “I’ve been here three and a bit years, mate, and if it’s a 50-50 I rarely see it going our way.

“I know that, but listen we’ve got to keep pushing our limits and making sure that we’re trying to be as squeaky clean as we can with things. I’m just…. to me, that try and the missed offside there – that’s inexcusable. Whether it’s Connacht or somebody else, I don’t know, it’s just inexcusable.”

To compound his frustrations, nor does the URC have channels to go through.

“We don’t have a referees’ manager, so I’m assuming that URC will be looking at that and hopefully something happens to the TMO that missed it. But it doesn’t help us, mate.”

Putting his own team’s errors into perspective, Friend highlighted their lineout pressure, strike plays, kicking and defence.

“On the whole the majority was really good, there’ll always be elements we need to work on. Otherwise we’d be out of a job.”

With next Saturday’s home game against Ulster at the Aviva in mind, Friend said: “What we will use is that we know we’re a good football side.

“We’ve just pushed a good Munster team who haven’t looked like losing a game this year and have played some really good rugby.

“We’ve turned up at their home field, where we beat them last season, knowing full well there was going to be a kick-back and we pushed them all the way to their limits.

“So, we know we’re a good football side. Our blip last week (against the Dragons) was a blip. We just have to make sure we never drop to that again and we keep our standards high.”

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Irish man (24) who drowned in swimming pool in Marbella is named

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A 24-year-old man who drowned in a swimming pool near Marbella in Spain has been named locally in Co Clare as Irish Defence Forces member Gerard McMahon.

Authorities responded to a distress call at 10.25am on Friday. The alarm was raised by friends who found Mr McMahon lifeless in the pool.

Spanish authorities are treating the death of the holiday maker as a “tragic accident”.

Mr McMahon lived in the Killaloe area of Co Clare. Local priest Fr Jerry O’Brien confirmed he had met the family of the young man and expressed his sympathy on behalf of the community.

Ogonnelloe GAA posted a tribute to Mr McMahon who was well known and liked in the community.

“It is with profound shock and sadness that we learned today of the sudden passing of our young member and friend, Gerard McMahon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his parents, Pat and Carmel, his sister Bríd, and all the McMahon family at this extremely difficult time.”

The club Facebook page posted a picture of Mr McMahon from 2016 when he and his team mates won the Division 3 League.

Scarriff Hurling also paid tribute to Mr McMahon who played for them at juvenile level. “Always with pride, great skill and giving all to the team and club.”

Meanwhile, local Fine Gael councillor Joe Cooney said the family of the young man were in the thoughts and prayers of the community.

Mr McMahon was a Private in the First Infantry Battalion in Renmore Barracks in Galway. St Patrick’s Garrison Church posted a message on Facebook asking for prayers for Mr McMahon and for his “family and comrades”.

A postmortem was expected to take place over the weekend at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Malaga.

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VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Don’t waste energy switching

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For years, Money Mail has urged readers to regularly switch energy supplier.

It wasn’t the most glamorous money-saving tip, but sticking with your existing provider meant you were almost certainly overpaying. 

And the return on this straightforward, mundane chore was lucrative, with households saving hundreds of pounds a year. But for now, you should forget all that.

The energy crisis has caused an unprecedented rise in wholesale gas prices. And the market remains incredibly volatile, with experts struggling to predict what will happen over the coming months.

Stick with it: The energy crisis has caused an unprecedented rise in wholesale gas prices meaning it not longer makes sense to switch  providers

Stick with it: The energy crisis has caused an unprecedented rise in wholesale gas prices meaning it not longer makes sense to switch  providers   

This means suppliers, many of which are at risk of going under, are just not able to offer competitive fixed deals.

Some comparison websites are still running an energy switching service, but there are only a handful of tariffs listed. 

And, as we reported last week, some would cost the average household almost £3,000 a year.

So for now, your best course of action is to stay put.

If you are coming to the end of a fixed deal, roll onto your supplier’s standard variable tariff. 

These default deals are protected by the energy watchdog’s price cap — £1,277 a year for the average gas and electricity user — until April 2022. And there are no exit fees, so you are free to switch away the moment better deals return.

For those who signed up to ultra‑cheap deals a year or two ago, there is no getting away from the fact that your bills are going to rise. 

But locking into a new fixed deal now could mean you’re hit with even higher energy costs over the cold winter months.

To avoid adding to any confusion, Money Mail has temporarily removed all energy tariffs from our Best Buys tables. 

But rest assured, we are tracking the market closely and will update you as soon as something changes.

Suppliers, many of which are at risk of going under, can't offer competitive fixed deals

Suppliers, many of which are at risk of going under, can’t offer competitive fixed deals

Tip top!

While on the topic of rising bills, a big thank you to everyone for their top energy-saving tips after I publicly scolded my husband, Chris, last week.

Money Mail reader Molly Clark suggests leaving the oven open after cooking so not to waste the heat, using candles for softer lighting and ditching the dishwasher in favour of a good old-fashioned washing-up bowl. 

Another reader, Robert, goes a step further and washes his dishes with cold water. 

A small squirt from a 29p bottle of diluted white vinegar along with a dash of washing-up liquid on a little green fabric scouring cloth used in circular motions will ensure they are squeaky-clean, he assures me.

But I was most taken by Julie Priest’s suggestion of a fridge alarm that will go off when the door is left open.

Amazon has one with a ‘repeated siren’ mode — and if that doesn’t teach Chris to close it, I don’t know what will.

But at £21.99, I might stick to nagging for now.

Keep those tips coming!

Many see a monthly subscription, such as Netflix, as essential (pictured: Netflix's Squid Game)

Many see a monthly subscription, such as Netflix, as essential (pictured: Netflix’s Squid Game)

Need for Netflix

It’s fascinating to see how our spending priorities have changed since the pandemic.

Take the popular streaming service Netflix. Once a luxury, a monthly subscription is now considered essential, according to a report by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association published yesterday. 

One pensioner commented that their partner’s quality of life would just not be the same without it.

Another man from Wales said that he had not realised how important dining out was for ’emotional well-being’.

But as the cost of living soars, experts fear people could cut back on pension saving. With many already failing to put aside enough for the lifestyle they want in retirement, this could prove disastrous.

So if you have spare cash leftover at the end of the month, consider using it to give your future self a better life.

It could be me…

Inspired by a colleague, I bought my first ever EuroMillions lottery ticket last Friday. It was a rollover with a juicy £174million jackpot, and I was feeling lucky.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t win. But what fun I had daydreaming about what I’d do with such a windfall. 

And since no one scooped the prize money, I figured there was no harm in having one more go in last night’s record £184million draw. Who knows, I could be a multi-millionaire by the time you read this.

v.bischoff@dailymail.co.uk

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