Wednesday 24 January 2018

Agency's closure will end sorry chapter in Irish public life

BY the end of this year, state training agency FAS will be no more.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is expected to announce a commencement date for Solas, one of two bodies taking over the functions of the old FAS.

The Department of Social Protection is the other.

The announcement will bring to a close a sorry chapter in Irish public life.

In reality the agency has been living on borrowed time since the autumn of 2008 when the 'Sunday Independent' revealed extravagant use of public funds on foreign travel and high-class hotels.

The then director general Rody Molloy (pictured) tried to defend the spending, claiming on radio he was entitled to first-class flights, and was gone within days. His departure was softened by a controversial €1m-plus injection into his pension and his being allowed keep a comp-any car.

The contro-versy prompted questions to be raised about the sprawling nature of the 2,300-staff organisation and the use of its €1bn budget.

It soon emerged controls were so lax that an employee had been able to defraud €620,000 from the agency over the course of several years before being eventually caught and jailed. But the final nail in the coffin came when the Irish Independent revealed major problems with the agency's core business – the provision of training to job seekers.

Results in some courses were found to have been falsified to give students better grades, causing huge international reputational damage to FAS qualifications.

The scandals couldn't have come at a worse time, with the country sliding deeper into recession and hundreds of thousands losing their jobs.

The Government finally recognised that the damage to FAS was irreparable and decided to rip things up and start all over again.

Over the past two years half of FAS's staff have been transferred to the Department of Social Protection, which has taken over the agency's responsibilities for employment services, employment offices and community employment schemes.

Old FAS employment offices have been rebranded as Intreo, under the management of the department.

Come January the training functions once carried out by FAS will start being moved to education and training boards, which are replacing VECs.

More than 800 trainers will move from being employed by FAS to working for the training boards.

The remaining 200 or so FAS staff will go into a new agency, Solas, which will carry out research, planning and funding, but will not have any role in the delivery of training.

No one is losing their jobs in the transformation, but staff who have left through retirement or for jobs in the private sector in recent years have not been replaced.

By November, FAS's distinctive red logo at its headquarters on Dublin's Baggot Street will also be gone.

Staff there will be moving to a new, and much smaller, building elsewhere in the capital, which will serve as the headquarters for Solas.

Irish Independent

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