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FAS board for chop over 'cronyism'

THE axe is set to fall on the board of embattled FAS this autumn.

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan will move a bill which will allow the State training agency board to be replaced -- and the number serving on it greatly reduced, the Irish Independent has learned.

News of the move comes after revelations in the Irish Independent of credit card bills totalling almost €1m which were run up by five FAS executives.

Department of Enterprise officials said the changes were expected to be broadly in line with recommendations made in a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report earlier this year.

The 17-member board came in for stinging criticism in the report, and was accused of failing to discharge its responsibilities in regard to ensuring good corporate governance.

The report recommended the board be restructured, making it smaller, and removing the automatic right of unions and employers' groups to make appointments to it.

The legislation is necessary if board members are to be removed before their term of office is over.

A spokeswoman for the Tanaiste said she was committed to getting the legislation enacted as soon as possible.

However, last night opposition politicians said the measures will not go far enough.

"The Tanaiste has confined her plans to restructuring the board of FAS, but has made no promise to allow the Dail to scrutinise appointments to the board," said Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar.

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"This will be essential to prevent the sort of cronyism that allowed five FAS executives to spend more than €1m of taxpayers' money on corporate credit cards."

One of the executives, former director general Rody Molloy, self-approved €85,000 in credit card spending between 2001 and 2008, none of which was vetted by the board.

This included €8,200 spent on golf at some of the country's most prestigious courses, as well as thousands of euro spent at luxury hotels around the world.

Despite resigning in disgrace last year, he left with lump-sum and pension payments of €441,000 and the board voted to allow him to keep his luxury car.

The board was heavily criticised by the PAC for failing to control lavish spending on procurement, flights, hotel accommodation and entertainment.

Some €35m was spent in "an unorthodox fashion" on advertising, while €760,000 was racked up on first-class and business-class flights between 2003 and 2007.

Some members of the current board took expensive flights to FAS events abroad at the taxpayers' expense.

They included FAS chairman Peter McLoone, whose flights for a visit to Florida in 2007 cost €7,300.

Flights for board member and TEEU general secretary Owen Wills to Canada and Orlando, Florida, in 2004 and 2007 cost a total of €19,000.