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Monday 24 July 2017

Retirement bash was paid for from HSE training fund

Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

A lavish retirement party costing more than €1,500 was paid for from the state training fund for health workers that is currently at the centre of a garda investigation.

And nearly €700 was spent on taxis waiting to collect health and union officials. That also came from the slush fund of over €2.35m of taxpayers' money that had been paid into a SIPTU account.

In yet another twist, it has now emerged that one retired worker involved in the scheme received both a public and a private pension, partly paid for from the fund.

The latest revelations emerged in an unpublished Health Service Executive (HSE) internal audit report into the training fund, known as 'Skill'.

The report, which will be presented to the Dail Committee on Public Accounts tomorrow, has been seen by the Irish Independent.

The Skill programme had a total budget of €60m and was set up to provide training for low-skilled health workers.

Of this, €2.35m for administration was paid into a SIPTU union account by the HSE. Another €876,000 was paid into a SIPTU account as part of a partnership forum.

Although the union has denied knowledge of the account, it was accessed by one of its longstanding officials. There is no documentation to show where around €348,000 of the money went.

It has already emerged that union officers, as well as HSE and Department of Health officials, went on 31 study trips -- paid for by the fund -- to far-flung destinations, such as Hong Kong, Australia and the United States.

The audit report found that a member of the steering committee set up to oversee the €60m told the auditors his spouse had never accompanied him on the trips -- but this was contradicted by documentation.

Money was paid over from the account for over €12,000 in taxis, including €668 for bills clocked up while waiting for the passenger to arrive.

Funded

It found that 8pc of taxis were for transporting people from home to office, 37pc for journeys to their homes , 33pc to collect them from pubs, restaurants and hotels and 24pc were hired outside office hours.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has already concluded that not all the trips were integral to the Skill programme and were funded out of the SIPTU bank account.

Auditors told the HSE to recoup whatever it could from the retired employee who had both a public and a private pension at the same time.

The report revealed: "In 2002 a private pension fund was awarded for a temporary employee, who at that time would not have been eligible to join the health services occupational superannuation scheme.

"There is no documentation available to indicate whether Department of Health or Department of Finance approval was sought."

The fund is currently being investigated by the Garda fraud squad and is the subject of an external probe commissioned by the HSE.

Senior officials from the Department of Health and the HSE will appear before the public accounts committee tomorrow to answer for the scandal.

Irish Independent

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