Saturday 21 October 2017

FAS to face more garda probes before shutdown

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

CONTROVERSIAL state training agency FAS is facing two more garda investigations into projects it funded before it finally shuts its doors later this year.

One is a job training project, which provided workers for an unfinished €4m hostel project. FAS has said that the €150,000 it supplied was "not spent correctly".

And there is a garda investigation into ineligible expenditure of €28,000 in a FAS community employment scheme between 2004 and 2007.

FAS is due to be abolished later this year and replaced by a new body, Solas, which will oversee the work of 16 Education Training Boards.

FAS chief executive Paul O'Toole told the Dail's Public Accounts Committee that the €150,000 of "irregular expenditure" on the jobs training project in Tipperary had been referred to gardai in the past week to consider whether it was of a "criminal nature".

"These were wages paid in the normal course of doing business. It's whether they were used appropriately or not for the purposes intended," he said.

FAS had been supporting the Tipperary hostel project, which received €4m of funds from state bodies to transform a Famine-era workhouse in Tipperary town into self-catering accommodation for tourists.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath recently told the Dail that FAS participants had testified about how their names were forged on documents and sick pay was drawn down for one individual.

He also said the hostel was lying idle "with the crows flying in and out of it".

The committee also heard that gardai and the Department of Social Protection are investigating €28,000 of spending in a community employment scheme between 2004-2007.

FUNDING

FAS said it had halted its funding once it discovered there was "ineligible expenditure" and had not suffered a loss.

The agency said the investigation had begun in 2010 but only concluded this year due to a shortage of resources.

Mr O'Toole was appointed to take charge of FAS after the resignation of former chief executive Roddy Molloy in 2008 following controversy over lavish foreign travel spending by senior executives.

Mr O'Toole said that the agency had sought to improve its governance and was making good strides in that regard.

"But human nature being what it is, you can never say that nothing will ever happen again," he said.

Irish Independent

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