Official at SIPTU may face action over funds
Published 26/03/2011 | 05:00
A SENIOR SIPTU official could face disciplinary action after it was found he set up a bank account in the union's name, which was used to fund foreign trips out of €4.4m in public funds.
The union will appoint a senior counsel "within weeks" to advise it on a course of action in relation to its National Industrial Secretary Matt Merrigan, who is on sick leave.
The move comes after an internal SIPTU probe -- released yesterday -- found it never approved a Bank of Ireland account set up by Mr Merrigan and a shop steward at St James's Hospital, Jack Kelly.
The pair were signatories to the Bank of Ireland account, which was set up over 10 years ago.
Funds lodged to the account, intended for the administration of an HSE training programme for low-skilled workers known as SKILL, paid for more than 31 trips for union and department officials and their spouses.
The Garda Fraud Squad is investigating the account after the HSE discovered much of the spending could not be accounted for.
The union investigation said Fianna Fail leader and former Health Minister Micheal Martin wrote to Mr Merrigan confirming funding for training, and €190,000 was provided.
It quotes a letter from the minister to Mr Merrigan in 2004 saying funds would be given to SIPTU to train frontline supervisors.
A spokesman for the Fianna Fail leader said the letter was evidence of the minister approving funding for the union, rather than Mr Merrigan, through the Office for Health Management.
"It was sent to Mr Merrigan because he was the national representative of frontline supervisors' training," he said.
The investigation also reveals money from the account was channelled to seven unions, including SIPTU, which got €41,258.
SIPTU general president Jack O'Connor previously told the Irish Independent that the union did not "get a penny" from the account.
Last night, he said he was not aware this money was paid to the union when he made that statement.
He said the investigation had revealed that these funds were paid in the form of reimbursements to officials for training programmes within Mr Merrigan's health division.
He admitted the controversy "should not have happened under his watch" and vowed to bring in new rules to prevent it happening again.
He said the €697,894 balance in the 'levy fund' account would be returned to the public purse.
The investigation revealed €4.4m was lodged into the account since 2001.
Mr Merrigan said an investigation on his behalf by Grant Thornton showed all transactions associated with the account were properly accounted for. But he said the review "identified overall deficiencies in corporate governance procedures at all levels surrounding the fund".