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€200,000 given to slush fund and no invoices sought

A GOVERNMENT agency handed over €200,000 in public funds to an unofficial bank account without getting any detailed invoices.

The funding ended up in the SKILL bank account, which was controlled by two senior members of the trade union SIPTU. The fund, which was supposed to finance the training of low-grade workers in the health service, was used for foreign trips by public servants and trade union officials.

The Department of the Environment secretary-general Geraldine Tallon admitted yesterday that she had no detailed invoices for €200,000 of the funding.

She said her department had no knowledge that the account was not an official trade union account and that it was in fact controlled by SIPTU officials Matt Merrigan and Jack Kelly.

The Dail's Public Accounts Committee heard that the department had now written to SIPTU, asking for copies of invoices.

But the committee's chairman, Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, said he could not see how any responsible organisation could give out €200,000 without getting proper invoices.

The committee heard evidence earlier this month that the Department of Health and the HSE supplied funding worth €2.3m to the same 'SIPTU' account.

Foreign trips

The money went on foreign trips by senior officials from the unions, the HSE, the Department of Health and other state organisations.

Ms Tallon confirmed that the €200,000 -- for which her department was responsible -- came from LANPAG, the Local Authority National Partnership Advisory Group.

LANPAG had been set up in 1999 at the request of the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. It was given €37m in the past 10 years.

Ms Tallon said the LANPAG funding was to provide training for local authority workers about public private partnership (PPP) projects.

She confirmed that one of the two SIPTU members on the board of LANPAG was Matt Merrigan -- who was also one of the trustees for the controversial 'SIPTU' account.

Ms Tallon said she had invoices for around €589,000 of other funding provided to the 'SIPTU account' by LANPAG, which covered the hiring of consultants, hotel accommodation, printing and stationery.

She showed some of these invoices to the committee yesterday. They showed that Matt Merrigan had invoices approved worth around €39,000 for carvery food, conference teas and coffees and the hire of the "ASA Management and Training Consultancy" firm.

This firm was paid a total of €15,000 for 12 days' work, which included a €1,200 rate per day and a mileage and travel claim of €1,500. ASA owner Martin Duffy said last night he could not comment on the invoices.

The committee heard that LANPAG provided the funding for three foreign "study trips" to Canada (2001), New York (2001) and Madrid (2003), whose participants included union officials, local authority officials and representatives from the Department of Environment.

Irish Independent