Irish Republican News · September 14, 2009
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Following the FAS money trail
Following the FAS money trail
fas.jpg

There have been calls for a criminal investigation into the actions of the board of directors of FAS, the 26 County state training agency, who are to resign en masse over their questionable spending practices.

Among the controversial expenditures which came to light in a damning report by the state auditor’s office was a television commercial which ostensibly cost six hundred thousand Euro, although no commercial was ever aired.

The FAS agency is known for its chronically under-funded training programmes, typically held in draughty and dilapidated classrooms around the country.

The annual “waste” sanctioned by the body’s directors is calculated to amount to tens of millions of Euro, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report. The report focussed on the 48 million Euro spent by FAS on publicity and advertising, despite the fact that the body had no marketing plan.

There has still been no accounting of the allegedly corrupt practices at FAS which emerged last year, including the five-star Florida vacations lavished by the agency on Ministers and government cronies.

The report said expenditure of nearly half a million Euro on trips to the US will feature in an upcoming report, as will expenditure on expenses incurred by staff while in the US.

Some of this latter expenditure occurred by way of a system whereby four FAS representatives in the US were given large cash “floats” to pay for costs incurred by participants in the agency’s so-called Science Challenge programme, amounting to over a million Euro.

Allegations have continued that the FAS budget was used chiefly as a Fianna Fail slush fund.

Critics have pointed to the fact that former FAS director-general Rody Molloy recently received an extraordinary government hand-out of over a million Euro as a “pension top-up” following his departure in disgrace earlier this year.

Labour social affairs spokeswoman Roisin Shortall said Ministers had to face up to their responsibilities in the matter, particularly the deputy Prime Minister of the 26 Counties, An Taoiseach Mary Coughlan.

“As recently as Thursday last, Mary Coughlan was refusing to act, despite the damning findings of the report of the Comptroller Auditor General.”

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan said that “at a time when the number of unemployed is fast approaching half a million people FAS should be using all it available funds to get Ireland back to work.

“This scandal with FAS expenditure is another example of a branch of government having absolutely no accountability. The Tanaiste seems perfectly content to stand back while these funds are wasted.”

He called for the FAS board, who remain in place despite planning their departure, to be sacked with immediate effect.

“We should not have to wait for resignations, there should be no hesitation in sacking these people on the spot, do not pass go and do not collect your executive pension.

“There needs to be action taken now we need to put in place frameworks that monitor and enforce accountability procedures. These people are not above the law and should not remain in privileged positions if they so readily abuse their power.”

O’DONOGHUE: EXPENSES ‘JUSTIFIABLE’

Meanwhile, the Ceann Comhairle [speaker] of the Dublin parliament, the former Fianna Fail Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism John O’Donoghue, has been described by a colleague of behaving like “a latter-day prince”.

According to a Sunday Tribune newspaper report this week, O’Donoghue spent over a half million Euro in travel and other expenses during the five-year period he served as Minister. Although no longer a Minister, his high-flying lifestyle and expenses has continued as Ceann Comhairle.

Mr O’Donoghue today (Monday) broke his silence on the controversy over chauffeur-driven limousines, the Cheltenham festival and first-class travel, claiming he accepted some of the bills appeared high.

But in his letter to colleagues, Mr O’Donoghue said he expected to be treated with the same privilege as Government ministers at home and as a visiting dignitary when abroad.

Fianna Fail’s Mattie McGrath broke party ranks to launch a scathing attack on the Ceann Comhairle.

“It [the expense spending] is unjustifiable and he can’t justify it, behaving like a latter-day prince - travelling around the world in the Government jet, I mean it is outrageous,” Mr McGrath said.

Mr McGrath, who entered the Dail after the 2007 election, said that the expenses system in the Dublin parliament was “a gravy train”.

Mr McGrath warned the extent of allowances and expenses had damaged both Fianna Fail and politics as a whole.

“They were living in a different world and I have learned it in the last two years to my disbelief,” he said.

“We need a bit of humility here and a bit of contrition saying this was wrong. This is very damaging to the body politic as well as Fianna Fail.”

© 2009 Irish Republican News