Wednesday 18 October 2017

Four officials at scandal-hit FAS at centre of bullying investigation

Paul O’Toole: FAS director general sanctioned probe
Paul O’Toole: FAS director general sanctioned probe

By Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

CONTROVERSIAL state training agency FAS is embroiled in a new scandal, with four senior figures under investigation over allegations of bullying and harassment.

One of the officials was transferred to another government body after the investigation started, while two others left the agency, the Irish Independent has learned.

FAS director general Paul O'Toole sanctioned the probe after serious allegations had been made by a member of staff.

The four people being investigated have contested the claims made against them.

It is the latest in a series of scandals that prompted the Government to begin the winding down of the organisation, with its functions being taken over by a new body, Solas, and the Department of Social Protection.

PROBE

The probe, which has been ongoing for at least two years and is still some way from completion, has remained under wraps until now.

Details of the investigation only came into the public domain after the Irish Independent made inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act.

It centres on allegations made by a female member of staff of bullying by four figures who held senior managerial roles. The allegations relate to repeated verbal bullying over a prolonged period.

The agency hired a Galway firm, Conflict Management Services (CMS), to investigate the staff member's claims.

In a statement, FAS confirmed the investigation, "which relates to an allegation of bullying", is ongoing.

"A final report on this investigation has not as yet been received by FAS," the statement said.

So far investigations into complaints against three of the four senior officials have been substantially completed, the Irish Independent understands.

However, the probe into the fourth person has been delayed for administrative reasons.

It is unclear what action could be taken against the two figures who have left the agency. However, the other two, including an official now working at another government body, could face demotions or more serious disciplinary action if findings are made against them.

FAS declined to comment on the transfer of one of the four to another government body or the decision of two others to leave the agency.

It said in a statement: "As a general principle, confidentiality is a key tenet of bullying investigations in any organisation. This is also the case in FAS where all parties agree in advance to maintain strict confidentiality. Breaches of this confidentiality can give rise to disciplinary action or compromise the investigation."

HARASSMENT

It is the fourth investigation of this type conducted by CMS since 2009. The other probes are understood to have related to lower-level staff at various locations around the country and the outcomes have not been disclosed.

The firm, which is run by Maura Keaveney Costello, has invoiced FAS for €114,600 to date for its work on bullying and harassment investigations, records show.

All of the people at the centre of the current probe were given the opportunity to be questioned by investigators and put their version of events across. They were also offered access to documentation put forward in the cases made against them.

FAS is no stranger to the hiring of external experts to investigate its own staff, and CMS is the third firm to be used in recent years.

Previously, external management consultant Ignatius Lynam carried out an investigation into the conduct of 14 staff at a cost of €240,000.

One of the people at the centre of Mr Lynam's report, FAS's former head of corporate affairs Greg Craig, was sacked. He subsequently brought a High Court action against the agency, which resulted in FAS making a settlement of €125,000 and paying €50,000 in legal costs.

DEFRAUDING

Another staff member investigated by Mr Lynam, former assistant manager James Brooke-Tyrell, was jailed for four years in March 2011 for defrauding the agency of more than €600,000.

Another report by consultants Mazars cost the agency €188,000. It was commissioned to investigate complaints made by Mr Craig against 17 others at the agency.

Although some of Mr Craig's complaints were upheld, no action was taken against anyone on foot of the report.

 

Irish Independent

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