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Wednesday 7 December 2016

FAS bans staff from billing taxpayer for spouses' foreign trips

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

Published 20/02/2010 | 05:00

STATE training agency FAS has banned the practice of using taxpayers' money to pay for trips abroad by the spouses of staff members.

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In a statement last night, the agency confirmed it was enforcing Department of Finance guidelines that prohibit the use of public money to find junkets for the husbands and wives of staff, except in "exceptional circumstances".

The guidelines were repeatedly breached during the past decade when senior executives took spouses on several trips. The revelation comes a fortnight after the governor of the Central Bank introduced a similar ban after it was outed for using public funds to pay for trips by 52 spouses in just two years.

FAS's move comes as a number of recently completed internal-audit reports detail widespread abuses of foreign-travel procedures.

Disgraced former director general Rody Molloy was accompanied by his wife on eight foreign visits -- at a total cost to the taxpayer of €21,000. None of these costs were reimbursed to FAS.

A further €11,200 was spent on flights for the wife of an assistant director general, with only €200 paid back.

One recently completed internal-audit report seen by the Irish Independent reveals how staff flouted travel guidelines, despite being issued with four reminders in three years.

The report gives further detail about the extent to which public money was used to pay for luxury travel. This was particularly the case with transatlantic flights booked as part of the FAS Science Challenge, a now defunct programme designed to give Irish graduates the opportunity to train for six months at leading American institutions.

Over €600,000 was spent on flights related to the programme between 2003 and 2007. While economy flights were booked for the students involved, FAS routinely spent thousands on executive-class flights for board members, staff, politicians and journalists.

Scandal

The report detailed how round-trip airplane tickets with an average cost of €6,363 were bought for three unnamed former board members.

Some 91 tickets with an average cost of €2,961 were purchased for FAS staff.

Another six tickets with an average cost of €3,945 were purchased for FAS staff and their spouses. Eight tickets with an average cost of €4,208 were also purchased for politicians and members of the media, while 41 tickets with an average cost of €3,503 were bought for non-FAS staff.

In stark contrast, the average cost of 307 round-trip flights purchased for students in the programme was just €703.

Although FAS has significantly tightened up on foreign travel since the scandal broke in late 2008, the report suggested the regulations could be tightened further. It said there was no policy with regard to foreign travel taken by non-staff, including board members, who have a role in official business.

Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar questioned why no one had been held accountable for the breaches of travel procedures.

"There have been a litany of revelations over the past two years, dozens of audit reports, reviews by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and investigations by the Public Accounts Committee. But nobody has yet been held properly accountable. No disciplinary action has been taken and no staff member dismissed."

Irish Independent

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