Last week the House of Lords Conduct Committee recommended Baroness Mary Goudie, a Labour peer, be suspended for six months from Parliament for entering a consultancy with an Irish eco company, which was declared late and providing advice to the firm who they should lobby in Parliament.
Normally this blog would condemn utterly any public figure who sells their expertise in Parliament for financial gain but there seem to be some rather peculiar circumstances in this case that make this judgement unduly harsh. Yes Baroness Goudie should be punished for breaching the Nolan code of conduct but her actions pale into insignificance compared to the behaviour of the bust company itself.
Obviously the role of the company is outside the remit of the House of Lords Conduct Committee but researching the history of this short lived firm reveals an extraordinary saga of events and Baroness Goudie seems to be left taking the rap.
For a start the case against her has been brought SIX years after the event in Parliament and FOUR years after a petition in the Dublin High Court forced it to go bankrupt. And the complainant has turned up with six year old emails, her consultancy contract worth 20,000 Euros over 10 months and internal corporate details of what she promised to do for them. It would suggest the person was either a member of the firm or knew someone there.
Parliamentary meetings never took place
She did plan to facilitate a meeting in Parliament where the directors could lobby an MP who belonged to an all party group on funerals and bereavement and write to the permanent secretaries of DEFRA and the Ministry of Justice. But the meeting never took place and the MP met the directors of ecoLegacy without Baroness Goudie being there. And there is no trace of any letter ever being written to the permanent secretaries.
Wrongly used the House of Lords library to help company
She wrongly used the House of Lords library to prepare a report for use by the company but as to be explained later it really didn’t tell them anything as the firm was using a new untried technology for cremation. Nor did she use debates in the Lords to promote the firm but was very late in registering her interest.
Now if we examine the firm its management record is appalling. It describes its business as “Provider of alternative processes to burial and cremation. The company offers burial and cremation alternatives that turn human deceased bodies into calcium and carbon powders and returns the powders in a biodegradable urn and seed which can be grown as a tree, helping families to remember their loved ones who departed.”
This sounds a lovely eco-friendly idea and the directors sought huge sums from wealthy American investors in ” start up ” schemes promising good returns. By the time it went bankrupt according to the Irish Business Post it had raised 7.2 million Euros and was running at a big loss.
The most devastating critique came from an Irish Judge Deirdre Murphy when she heard a petition from The William Jay Gencarella Family Trust, based in the US, in 2018
Her judgement read: “Two founding members of the company Tony Ennis and Brian McKimm, featured extensively in the evidence adduced on the hearing, both on affidavit and on cross-examination, but neither provided direct evidence to the court. The hearing was not so much “ Hamlet” without the prince as “ Two Gentlemen of Verona” without the two gentleman. During the course of the hearing there were allegations and counter-allegations that both had misappropriated company funds over the years. The court has the impression that in many respects the hearing of this petition was a proxy war between the two founding members, in which the petitioner has been ill-served and was liable to suffer collateral damage.”
She “appointed Declan Taite as liquidator to EcoLegacy Ltd which she said had been “brought to its knees” by the “mismanagement and intransigence” of one of its founders, Tony Ennis.
In another case before a judge in Dallas, Texas, three groups, Fox Bend Development Associates, Ltd., Fred and Michele Secker, and Jeffrey Hicks Trust 2005, sought to sue ecoLegacy. The citation reads: ” that Ennis made fraudulent misrepresentations and omitted material facts in soliciting Plaintiffs to invest a total of $3,250,000 into ecoLegacy. Plaintiffs assert claims for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, violation of Texas and federal securities laws, and costs and attorneys’ fees. “
Ennis got the case dismissed because there was an arbitration agreement built into the contract.
Was the project just a piece of Irish baloney?
The question must be asked whether the whole scheme was just a piece of Irish baloney. One engineer who worked on the project called Remo says it was not and could have succeeded but was brought down by disputes between directors. All this makes the crimes of Baroness Goudie seem small beer. if this is the Lords Conduct Committee suspension template, I can only think the alleged behaviour of Lady Mona on behalf of Metpro, the PPP supplier now being sued by the government, would see her banned for five years.
The other big question is whether Baroness Goudie knew about all these shenaghins. The main court drama came after she had finished her consultancy. If one looks at her website, it looks as though eco-funerals were never at the top of her agenda. Instead she is known internationally as a women’s rights and peace campaigner holding a number of distinguished positions. On the balance of probabilities, I think not. The problems in the company were not her fault but she should have checked it out more thoroughly rather than relying on a ” trusted friend”. It was a clash of egos that bought ecoLegacy down. It was more ego than eco.
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Apropos nothing, isn’t she the partner of the distinguished barrister James Goudie KC – an eminent advisor on local government public law?
according to her profile she is. You are right