Thursday 24 August 2017

SIPTU official demoted over role in €4.4m 'slush fund'

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

A TOP union official has been demoted over his role in setting up a multi-million euro "slush fund" account that was used to fund foreign trips to 31 destinations such as the US, Australia and Hong Kong.

Matt Merrigan, a SIPTU health division organiser, and shop steward Jack Kelly set up the "health and local authority fund account", which the union was completely unaware of. The account received €4.4m funding since it was opened in 1998.

More than €2m came from the Department of Health and the HSE, nearly €1m from a health service partnership forum and nearly €800,000 from a local authority partnership body. Another €100,000 came from Beaumont Hospital.

The account was described at the Dail Public Accounts Committee last year as "a slush fund".

It was set up to upskill and assist lower-grade workers in the health services, mainly through the HSE skills training programme.

But around 14pc was spent on foreign travel and subsistence for public-sector managers, union representatives and their spouses or partners.

The travel bills involved short trips to England and other longer-haul trips by HSE and other health officials to study practices in different countries.

After details of the account emerged, SIPTU hired senior counsel Richard Kean to examine issues relating to the employment of Mr Merrigan.

Mr Kean found firing Mr Merrigan would be disproportionate, but it is understood he found he did not display the kind of "judgment that would be expected of a person at the level of divisional organiser in the union".

Mr Kean's report noted that Mr Merrigan had accrued 30 years of otherwise unblemished service -- and that the objective of trying to secure a culture change through upskilling lower-grade health-sector staff was a worthy objective.

Instead, he is to be demoted to the grade of sector organiser, with reduction in pay of around €10,000 and cuts in pension entitlements.

Mr Kean found Mr Merrigan and Mr Kelly opened the account without the approval of the appropriate authorities and that records of transactions in the account were not kept.

Benefited

However, he found no evidence that Mr Merrigan benefited personally or financially.

Mr Kean said Mr Kelly -- a shop steward from St James's Hospital in Dublin -- was not an employee of SIPTU and his involvement should be examined under the union's disciplinary procedures for members. Mr Merrigan has until next Thursday to appeal the ruling.

The balance in the account of approximately €690,000 is to be returned to the Department of Finance.

Irish Independent

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