SIPTU to force court move in FAS row
THE future of a major disciplinary investigation into the conduct of FAS staff looks set to be decided by the Labour Court, the Irish Independent has learned.
The court will today be asked to adjudicate on the legitimacy of the 13-month-long inquiry, amid claims by a trade union that it should be abandoned.
Eight current and six former staff are under investigation after being identified in a series of internal audits at the state training agency.
They include the former director of corporate affairs, Greg Craig, whose section was implicated in a series of spending and procurement scandals.
An external investigator has been hired to recommend action, up to and including dismissal, against the staff identified in the audits.
However, SIPTU, which represents some of the staff, has called on FAS to scrap the inquiry after consultancy firm Mazars raised questions over the manner in which it was set up.
FAS, which has already spent hundreds of thousands of euro on the investigation and associated legal costs, has refused to do so.
Sources last night revealed SIPTU will today try to force the matter into the Labour Court for binding arbitration.
A finding in favour of the union would come as a major setback for FAS, which has been seeking to draw a line under the scandals of recent years.
It could spark a series of compensation claims from staff who allege they were wrongfully investigated. It would also raise the prospect that no one would be held to account for a series of scandals at the agency.
The staff members under investigation were all identified as having cases to answer in a series of 23 internal audits which found some people did not do their jobs properly, by failing to implement spending controls or speak up when spending thresholds were breached by others.
However, following a list of grievances submitted by Mr Craig, FAS employed Mazars to review his case.
The subsequent report questioned the manner in which the internal audits were compiled and their findings.
SIPTU has argued the current investigation is untenable as it was initiated as a result of the audit findings, which it says are now discredited.
The union is now set to refer the matter to the Labour Court under Section 20 of the Industrial Relations Act. The legislation allows the union to unilaterally refer a dispute to the court as long as it gives an undertaking to abide by any subsequent court decision.
FAS declined to comment, stating the agency did not discuss human resources matters.
To date, no FAS staff member has faced the sack for improper conduct.
Former director general Rody Molloy was forced to resign in disgrace in late 2008 following revelations of lavish spending on foreign travel.
He received a golden handshake package worth €3.8m over the next 30 years.