Wednesday 21 February 2018

Dail watchdog urges mystery agency to admit 'super-junket'


THE Dail spending watchdog has called for the mystery state agency behind one of the largest tax-funded junkets to reveal itself.

A report by Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) John Buckley said a state organisation had used taxpayers' money to bring the spouses of 52 staff members on a foreign trip.

However, each of the 20 agencies named in his report last night denied they were the guilty party.

Despite the denials, Mr Buckley's office said it was standing over its report.

The C&AG's office confirmed it had documentation from one of the agencies to prove that there had been a "single trip on which 52 spouses travelled".

However, it will not name the organisation as the details were given "in confidence".

The situation last night prompted Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Bernard Allen to call for the agency involved to "come clean".

The PAC is planning to write to each of the state agencies, which include IDA Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Bord na gCon and Enterprise Ireland, to ask them to state their position.

But Mr Allen said it would be far better if the agency which organised the trip for the 52 spouses disclosed its identity.

"I'm saying to them, 'Come forward and say who you are'. It would save us a lot of trouble and in order to alleviate public concern, the facts should come out," he said.

It comes after the C&AG's report last week revealed that FAS spent €32,000 flying the spouses of senior FAS figures around the world -- including a €21,000 bill for flights for the wife of former FAS director-general Rody Molloy.

Mr Allen said the latest trip would put the FAS spending in the shade and would be the "mother of all junkets".

The office of the C&AG said it was still standing over the information about the "52 spouses" trip in its report last week.


A spokeswoman said it could not publish the name of the agency, because the information was given confidentially to allow a comparison with FAS spending on foreign travel.

Some 18 of the state agencies questioned by the C&AG revealed that they paid for flights for people other than staff members. Although some agencies were reimbursed, around €1.5m incurred for 4,000 flights for non-staff members was not recouped.

The other state agencies which have denied being responsible for the trip are the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, Forfas, Horse Racing Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, Teagasc, the Central Bank, Beaumont Hospital, Failte Ireland, Udaras na Gaeltachta, the Institute of Public Administration, Ordnance Survey Ireland, Dublin Institute of Technology, the Irish Sports Council, Shannon Development, the National Treasury Management Agency and the ESRI state think-tank.

Another agency which featured in the survey, Bord na gCon, also ruled itself out. Its former chairman Pascal Taggart confirmed that he had travelled with his wife to Australia several times during the 2000-2006 period.

He also said there were 53 people on one of the trips to greyhound stadiums in Australia. But almost all of these people were "greyhound enthusiasts" who had paid their own fare, he said.

"There were 53 the first year, 40 the next year, 30 the next year, this was all a private organised group. It wasn't organised by us. Then we took the advantage of accompanying them. We were getting bargain-basement rates for hotels and for our flights. It was all at the lowest possible price," he said.

Mr Taggart said he and another Bord na gCon member had brought their wives to Australia -- but had paid for their flights.

"We went economy and all wives paid for themselves, including my wife. It is so unlike the FAS experience. It's like black and white. It's a different league," he said.

Irish Independent

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