Irish Republican News · October 8, 2010
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Government, union figures named in slush fund scandal

A blame game has erupted over a fund which was uncovered earlier this year involving the 26-County Department of Health, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the powerful SIPTU trade union.

The 2.5 million euro fund, intended for staff training, was instead used to pay for the trips to the US, Canada, Australia, Brussels and Hong Kong. It was held in a bank account controlled by two SIPTU officials and was funded mainly by the HSE’s so-called ‘Skills’ programme.

The Department of Health admitted that many of the 31 trips between 2004 and 2009 had “little or nothing” to do with the ostensible training programme, which was designed to provide training for support staff such as porters, home helps and laundry workers.

A parliamentary committee, which is looking into the matter, heard what was described as “a catalogue of waste” and “serious breaches of financial oversight”.

HSE Chief Executive Cathal Magee said the use of the fund for holidays, taxis, parties and the purchase of electronic goods was “unacceptable” -- but stopped short of describing it as embezzlement. He said documentation which might throw light on the activity was “with SIPTU”.

SIPTU has denied it was accountable for the fund, but the scandal has cast a new light on the ‘social partnership’ -- the close relationships between the Fianna Fail government and some of the major trade unions in Ireland.

Fine Gael TD Jim O’Keeffe said that a number of the foreign trips appeared to have been organised around St Patrick’s Day, a common time for junkets by Dublin government officials.

“Here was a slush fund that was being used for the expenditure of public monies for improper purposes,” he said.

Among those who availed of the fund was the former secretary general of the IMPACT trade union, Peter O’Loone, as well as SIPTU’s Matt Merrigan. Others named at the committee hearing were a senior Department of Finance official Tom Dowling (now retired), the Health Service Executive’s former director of human resources, Martin McDonald, and Dublin City Council official Frank Kelly.

SIPTU said it has set aside 348,000 euro as a possible repayment as an indication of good faith but has refused further comment.

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