Union insists it didn't receive a penny of HSE's missing €2.35m
SIPTU chief rejects cash claims
THE leader of the country's largest trade union has insisted that it did not receive "a penny" of a missing €2.35m training fund being investigated by gardai.
SIPTU general president Jack O'Connor contradicted the HSE's claim that it channelled the money into an account held by his union.
The Department of Health has said an average of about €250,000 a year was paid to the union under the SKILL training programme.
But Mr O'Connor said his union had carried out an internal audit of all its accounts, including branches and other divisions, and insisted no SKILL funds were lodged to them.
But sources claimed government funds, which originated at the Department of Finance, were paid into an account that "had all the appearance of a SIPTU account".
However, Mr O'Connor confirmed that a SIPTU official is the subject of inquiries following an internal HSE audit of funding for the training scheme for low-skilled health service workers.
The HSE board has passed on the audit to gardai after around €2.35m in administrative expenses could not be accounted for. "No account operated by the union received any of that money," said Mr O'Connor.
"They have been scrutinised by our auditors and none of that money has been received into any account operated by this union," he added.
"What's alleged is that this money was paid to us back to 2002. I'm telling you we never received a penny of this money."
SIPTU has claimed it had not received a copy of the audit, but yesterday said it had been informed this was "under review".
Mr O'Connor said the union did, however, have a heavy involvement with the SKILL programme and officials sat on its steering committee and participated in the training programme. He said senior officials including himself, Joe O'Flynn and Brendan Hayes were unaware of the existence of the funds until October last year, when the union was approached by the HSE audit team.
An internal HSE audit found there were no receipts for more than half of a €2.35m fund.
It found foreign travel made up some of the spending, but bills were run up for a number of items that could not be fully accounted for including:
- Trips to the US around St Patrick's Day.
- Trips to Australia, with a stopover in Hong Kong.
- Study visits to the UK.
- Hotel and restaurant bills.
- A €12,000 taxi bill between 2006 and 2008. It is understood some of the taxis were from home to work.
- Departments of Health and Finance and HSE officials took part in SKILL study visits to observe overseas healthcare systems.
The training fund was set up under a Labour Court recommendation in October 2003 to resolve a dispute between the Health Service Employers' Agency and SIPTU, the ATGWU and IMPACT.
The court said a "discreet training fund" of €60m should be established over five years to 2008, with a fund of €12m on an annual basis after this.