Irish News

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Whistleblower at Fas got €100k to settle grades case

Successor Solas is now threatening legal action, claiming worker broke confidentiality deal

SHANE PHELAN Public Affairs Editor

Published 16/02/2014|02:30

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John McGuinness chairman of PAC
John McGuinness chairman of PAC

THE former State training agency Fas made a settlement of close to €100,000 with a staff member who alleged she was badly treated after blowing the whistle on dodgy training practices.

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The compensation was paid to a Co Louth-based employee, Una Halliday, last year following a protracted investigation of her complaints by an external consultant, the Sunday Independent has learned.

But now Fas's successor, Solas, has threatened it will take action to recoup the payout after claiming Ms Halliday breached a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement.

Dail Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness used committee privilege this week to describe Solas's handling of the issue as "outrageous".

Ms Halliday, a training coordinator, raised concerns in 2009 about the marking of courses.

A subsequent Fas audit found that a tutor had falsified results so pass grades could be given to students who had failed courses. It also found evidence that assessment materials had been manipulated on other courses.

As a result of the findings, Fas terminated its contract with the training firm involved and students had to resit exams.

The episode prompted Fas to do a nationwide review of its courses, which found further irregularities in 2010. It also had the knock-on effect of delaying the issuing of certification to hundreds of students.

The training controversy signalled the death knell of the agency, coming quickly on foot of the scandal over lavish expenses and foreign travel.

Afterwards, Ms Halliday claimed to have been victimised by elements within the organisation and made an official complaint.

The Sunday Independent has learned that, following an external investigation of her complaint and an arbitration process, a settlement was reached in 2013.

However, that has not been the end of the matter and Fas's successor, state training authority Solas, has now accused Ms Halliday of breaching a confidentiality agreement.

It is understood it claims confidentiality was breached after Mr McGuinness received correspondence alleging further issues related to training services.

Similar correspondence was also received by a junior minister.

Ms Halliday was requested to attend a meeting with Solas officials this week, despite being on sick leave.

The Sunday Independent understands the authority has threatened legal action against her and that it would take steps to recoup the settlement payment.

Without going into detail, Mr McGuinness used committee privilege this week to criticise Solas over its treatment of Ms Halliday and asked his officials to outline his concerns to the authority's chief executive Paul O'Toole.

"It is outrageous what is happening to her and I would ask that that be communicated to Mr O'Toole," he said.

Mr McGuinness said he would ask Mr O'Toole about the issue when he appears at a hearing relating to the funding of charity Rehab over the next fortnight.

Ms Halliday declined to comment when contacted. It is understood she denies having breached any confidentiality arrangement.

A spokesman for Solas also declined to answer a list of questions submitted.

Sunday Independent

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