27 November 2008

PAC begins Investigation of FÁS Scandal

Today a member of the Board of FÁS has appeared before a Dáil committee in Leinster House in Dublin and said that "the approval of some expenses" at the State's training agency was "fundamentally wrong".

Niall Saul (left), who is one of the four employers' representatives on the 17-member board, told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Dáil Éireann that "a root and branch investigation is required".
He said that following last night's board meeting, it was clear that there was "a failure of control and oversight of expenditure".

Mr. Saul is the HR Director of McNamara Constructions and held similar positions before with Irish Life & Permanent (owners of the permanent tsb bank) and - until 1997 - with Waterford Crystal. He is also the chairman of the Audit Committee of the FÁS Board.
Amazingly Mr. Saul was the only member of the entire FÁS Board prepared to attend today's hearing, and one has to wonder what a bunch of spineless cowards the other 16 members must be.

Former FÁS Director General Rody Molloy (right), who has resigned two days ago after coming under severe pressure from the media and public outrage, refused stubbornly to appear before the PAC (saying he was "no longer in office") and to account for his agency's affairs and his own eccentricities.
This is the man who was praised by Taoiseach Brian Cowen twice in the past four days. (see my entries of November 25th & 26th)

PAC Chairman Bernard Allen (Fine Gael) said that he finds it "incredible that members of FÁS can just ride into the sunset without holding themselves accountable".

Deputy Allen (left), who represents the Cork North Central constituency, stated that it was "regrettable that Mr. Molloy is not in attendance", but he said other members of FÁS would be able to address issues, as they were also in the organisation during the time being examined.

He added that he was "inviting" Mr. Molloy to come before the committee next week. There were also speculations in Leinster House if Rody Molloy could be forced by law to attend the next PAC meeting.

Bernard Allen also sent a formal invitation to FÁS Chairman Peter McLoone, who in his main job is Secretary General of IMPACT, the (with about 55,000 members) largest public service trade union in Ireland.

McLoone (right) was appointed as Chairman of FÁS on December 23rd, 2005, succeeding Brian Geoghegan, the husband of Health Minister Mary Harney. (When the two got married in 2001, Harney - then the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment - was in fact Geoghegan's boss and supervisor, as her then Department controls FÁS.)

Appointed for a five-year period, Peter McLoone could remain as FÁS Chairman until the end of 2010, unless he has the decency to step down from his position. In the light of the recent revelations, McLoone has certainly not done a good and proper job in overseeing the running of the agency.

The PAC also heard today statements from civil servants from the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment and the Department of Finance.

In a further development of the affair, Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe (left) told the PAC that he has established that State travel policy did not include any entitlement to first class travel. (On Monday Rody Molloy said live on air - in an interview with Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1 - that he was "entitled to first class flights".)

Deputy O'Keeffe, who represents the Cork South West constituency, was questioning FÁS Assistant Director General Christy Cooney - one of the seven people who hold this title, and thus a member of the FÁS Executive Board - about the organisation's travel policy.
Besides his senior job with FÁS, Christy Cooney (on the photo - with Sean McCague - right, holding a book) is also the incoming new president of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), the organisation in charge of Ireland's popular national sports Hurling, Camogie and Gaelic Football.
The 52-year-old from Youghal, Co. Cork has long been involved with the GAA, especially in the southern province of Munster, and was elected in April to succeed the current GAA boss Nickey Brennan next year.

Meanwhile FÁS has located credit receipts for the € 32,000 worth of flights to Florida, which the organisation earlier told the Committee it had failed to get refunds for. It said that "the credit notes were incorrectly coded, due to an administrative error". Which means that sloppy work at the FÁS head office is costing the taxpayers of Ireland € 32,000 for absolutely nothing in return.
This amount should be deducted from the generous salary of the FÁS director responsible and returned to the Department of Finance.

In a separate statement the Taoiseach declared that the Board of FÁS "now needs to get back to work and appoint an interim Director General soon, following the resignation of Mr. Molloy".
Brian Cowen (left) said that "it is important the Board of FÁS continues to operate". Instability should not be re-created and a sustainable and credible way forward needed to be found.

He seems however completely unconcerned with the massive scandal that brought down Rody Molloy and might yet claim more heads from the senior staff of FÁS, as ever more details emerge about the self-indulgent and irresponsible lifestyle the agency's executives enjoyed for years at taxpayers' expense.

With his cavalier attitude and - even worse - his praise for the main culprit of the scandal, Brian Cowen associates himself with the corrupt spongers and thus becomes co-responsible, by deed and by association, even if he himself might not have directly benefited from the colossal misuse of public money. As the Taoiseach he is responsible for the whole government, including all its agencies, anyway. And as the Minister for Finance until May of this year he was also directly responsible for the nation's money, in particular what is spent in any part of the public sector.

So, either Brian Cowen knows a lot more about the FÁS scandal - and perhaps many more like it in other government agencies - than he is willing to admit in public, or he is immensely stupid. In either case he is not the right man to be Taoiseach and should resign immediately.

The Emerald Islander

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