Wednesday 14 November 2018

Board chairman denies 'turning a blind eye' to travel expenses

Michael Brennan

THE head of the FAS board has said he was never aware of the lavish spending on foreign travel. FAS chairman Peter McLoone also said the board had not been informed of the two-year-old audit into spending irregularities at the agency until December 2007, or the disciplinary action taken against a senior employee who is now suspended.

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan announced that she had appointed a new interim director general at FAS following the resignation of Rody Molloy last week. Eddie Sullivan is a former secretary general at the Department of Finance and a member of the new group set up by the Government to supervise bank executives' pay.

Mr McLoone yesterday told the Public Accounts committee that the board had never been told about foreign travel expenses in FAS.

"I was not aware of the travel in respect of a period before I became a member of the board in January 2006," he said.

However, Mr McLoone himself flew to Orlando, Florida last year with former director general Rody Molloy on business-class flights costing €15,000 in total. He said yesterday he was awaiting the results of the FAS audit investigation into overseas travel spending.

He denied suggestions from Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack that the 17-member board had deliberately "turned a blind eye" to issues such as foreign travel.

Mr McLoone said the board had only found out about the internal audit into spending irregularities in FAS in December 2007 -- two years after it had begun.

"That does not explain or excuse why we were not engaged with this," he said

Although Mr McCormack called on the board to consider its position, Mr McLoone said the board would continue in office "until it's decided otherwise" by the Government.

But he agreed that the board would examine the payment of foreign travel expenses in the future. Since 2004, FAS has taken serious disciplinary action against 14 staff, including three dismissals for misappropriation of funds and materials, misconduct and misuse of computer facilities.

But Labour TD Roisin Shortall said it was "extraordinary" that the board had not pursued the issue of the disciplinary action against the now suspended director of corporate affairs Greg Craig.

"That detail was never brought to the board's attention," said Mr McLoone.

He acknowledged that many of the 2,200 FAS employees felt a sense of "betrayal" by senior executives' lavish spending on foreign travel.

"I'm very sensitive to the damage this has done to the reputation of the organisation," he told Labour TD Tommy Broughan.

The Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley announced details of his forthcoming investigation into FAS, which will focus on advertising spending.

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