Saturday 20 January 2018

Anger as taxpayer funds junket for 52 spouses

Patricia McDonagh

TDs have demanded to know which state agency paid for 52 staff and their spouses to travel on a taxpayer-funded junket.

The "outrageous" trip was disclosed by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) following the audit on FAS.

It came to light after the spending watchdog surveyed 20 additional state agencies to obtain details of foreign travel taken between 2007 and 2008.

However, the C&AG did not name the agency involved.

According to its report, the total flight costs for the agencies surveyed came to €8.6m for the two-year period. Eighteen of the agencies confirmed they had paid for flights for people who were not staff members.

Some organisations reported that they had been reimbursed for non-staff flights, but around €1.5m incurred for 4,000 flights for non-staff had not been reimbursed as these involved external examiners and external assessors, scientists for peer review services as well as ministerial trade trips.

But they also included "staff members' spouses travelling by invitation to an official spouses' programme. This refers to a single trip on which 52 spouses travelled", the report said.

Just four of the state agencies -- Dublin Institute of Technology, Enterprise Ireland, the Central Bank and the IDA -- accounted for two-thirds of the €8.6m bill for flights

However, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA last night denied they paid for spouses to travel.


The Irish Blood Transfusion Board, The Irish Sports Council, Horse Racing Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Failte Ireland,Shannon Development Agency, Udaras Na Gaeltachta, and Beaumont Hospital also denied paying for trips by the partners of staff members.

Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe insisted the agency involved should come clean..

"They should justify the reason behind any expenditure that was incurred," he said.

"The trip sounds rather extraordinary and I find it difficult to understand how it would be justified."

And Labour TD Roisin Shortall insisted that the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should launch an investigation.

"It is outrageous and another story of extraordinary waste," she said.

"A state agency should not be bringing people, ministers or otherwise on various trips. The agency involved should disclose who they are.

"I think the information now out there provides fertile ground for examination and I am anxious to see this discussed at the PAC next Thursday."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said no further comment was being made on the C&AG report.

Last night, PAC chairman Bernard Allen said he would pursue the matter.

"I was quite shocked and taken aback when I read the report," he said.

"I will be pursuing the matter further to get the full reasoning behind it. At first sight it seems unacceptable."

Mr Allen said he will be speaking with the C&AG John Buckley next Thursday to obtain more information, and the committee would then decide what course of action take.

Irish Independent

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