State official on nine trips paid for by training fund
A FORMER government official went on nine 'study' trips paid out of a controversial €2.3m state fund being investigated by the Garda Fraud Squad, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Department of Finance has confirmed that retired assistant principal officer Tom Dowling went on five trips to the UK and four to the US between 2005 and 2009.
But, it disputed claims made at a recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Mr Dowling went on another three trips paid out of the SKILL training fund.
The department has written to the committee -- which held a hearing into the fund over a week ago -- to say a HSE table listing the trips Mr Dowling travelled on is wrong.
The department said it had evidence he clocked in for work when he was supposed to be away on three trips to the US.
The letter was sent last week by the department as it completes its own inquiry into Mr Dowling's travel expenses. It is understood the report -- expected to be finalised in a fortnight -- is expected to focus on any money the department may have paid to Mr Dowling to cover his travel costs.
The SKILL fund was set up to administer a training programme for staff and managers in the health service. A total of 31 trips taken by department officials, trade unionists, and some spouses paid for by the fund are under intense scrutiny.
Numerous inquiries have been launched since an internal HSE audit found much of a €2.3m fund it paid into an account operated by SIPTU official Matt Merrigan could not be accounted for.
The Comptroller and Auditor General has questioned the purpose of many of the trips, some of which coincided with St Patrick's Day.
"As noted by the HSE officials who attended the committee hearing, the table is based on the recollections of some of those who went on the trips," the letter stated.
"While the department's internal audit has yet to be completed, as far as the former Department of Finance representative is concerned, it does not correspond to records in this department."
It said its attendance recording system showed the official 'keyed in' at its Dublin offices during a trip to New York in 2005, a trip to New York the following year, and a trip to Boston in 2007.
The Comptroller and Auditor General's report into the fund previously found the department official made an expenses claim at official public service "conference" rates for a visit to Savannah, Georgia, in the US.
The report said the purpose of the trip made no reference to SKILL, but was described as "health partnership/local partnership".
The department previously claimed the study trips attended by Mr Dowling were a "valuable" part of the social partnership process, but did not elaborate any further.
It also said it was not aware who was funding the trips at the time he travelled.
Efforts to contact Mr Dowling last night were unsuccessful.