SIPTU official in €2.3m fund probe seeks new audit
Published 26/10/2010 | 05:00
A UNION probe into a controversial €2.3m state fund used to pay for 31 trips abroad has been delayed as the official at the heart of the controversy seeks his own inquiry.
SIPTU's national industrial secretary Matt Merrigan -- who was a signatory to the account the Health Service Executive (HSE) paid the money into -- has requested that independent consultants Grant Thornton carry out a new audit.
They are currently double checking the data being used by the union's trustees for their own report into the SKILLS training fund, due to be completed next month.
Sources revealed that the union has permitted Mr Merrigan, who is currently absent on sick leave, to get a second opinion on the figures.
The SKILLS fund was meant for the administration of a training programme for low-skilled workers. But a HSE audit found much of the funds it paid into the account, to which Mr Merrigan and SIPTU member Jack Kelly were signatories, could not be accounted for.
The audit revealed officials from the Departments of Health and Finance, union officials, and some spouses travelled on 31 study trips between 2004 and last year.
Nine trips were taken to New York, 16 to the UK, and there were separate individual trips to Australia, Los Angeles, Boston, Savannah and Brussels.
Fine Gael's Jim O'Keeffe described the HSE payments as a "slush fund for the expenditure of public money for improper purposes" at a Public Accounts Committee hearing earlier this month.
As well as SIPTU, the garda fraud squad, the Departments of Health and Finance and the Comptroller and Auditor General have launched inquires into the fund.
SIPTU's internal report into the fund was due at the end of this month but is now unlikely to be ready until next month as the consultants have requested information from general secretary Joe O'Flynn.
The union has frozen an account into which the HSE made payments since August.
SIPTU denies any involvement with the account and its general president Jack O'Connor said it never received "a cent" from the fund.
The HSE paid the money into an account with SIPTU under the name "the SIPTU national health and local authority levy", but the union said it never authorised this account.
The Irish Independent previously revealed that the account was held at the same Bank of Ireland branch that SIPTU holds its accounts.
Mr Merrigan did not return calls last night.