€4.3m wasted after officials 'ignored whistleblower'
Published 17/04/2015 | 02:30
Government officials have admitted they failed to follow up on whistleblower concerns about a broadband project that lost €4.3m for taxpayers north and south of the border.
Mark Griffin, the secretary general of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said an official failed to attend a meeting arranged to discuss the whistleblower's concerns.
The man raised concerns in 2006 over the operation of the Bytel project, a plan to provide faster internet connections to homes in Belfast, Craigavon, Armagh, Dundalk and Dublin.
"I don't know why we didn't attend," Mr Griffin told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee. His department lost €2.3m on the venture.
A subsequent auditor general report found an investigation of the whistleblower's claims by the North's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) was inadequate.
The report found €1.3m was used to buy equipment from a sister company of Belfast firm Bytel, even though it may have been worth just €30,000.
Mr Griffin said his department had accepted assurances from DETI that the whistleblower concerns were the result of an internal dispute within Bytel.
"We took our eye off the ball," he said.
"If the nature and seriousness of the allegations made in 2006 had been fully appreciated, there may have been an opportunity to step in at that stage."
Government cash pumped into the project was to be recouped later from an EU fund.
However, the EU pulled out of the deal when a litany of irregularities were found.
Labour TD Derek Nolan said the episode was "shocking for the almost gold standard it sets for management incompetence".