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FAS chief lets slip chaos behind Tanaiste overhaul

The behind-the-scenes chaos surrounding Tanaiste Mary Coughlan's planned re-invention of FAS was exposed yesterday after its director general was unable to say what kind of agency he will be leading in January.

Apart from confirming FAS will get a new name, Paul O'Toole was unable to say what else is being planned for the beleaguered state training agency.

Mr O'Toole admitted, despite assurances from Ms Coughlan and the Department of Education, that no formal discussions have taken place with FAS, no structure has been decided and not even a name has been suggested for the new agency.

He said the FAS board had sent "a sort of outline proposal" to Ms Coughlan.

But Mr O'Toole side-stepped questions as to whether the Tanaiste's announcement on Thursday evening had come as a surprise and was equally vague on the issue of whether the new board of FAS had held talks with Ms Coughlan or her department on the replacement agency.

"The board of FAS has made a submission to the Tanaiste with a sort of outline proposal of how we believe we can take things forward", Mr O'Toole said.

Ms Coughlan had indicated that she would be discussing the matter with the board "over the next number of weeks".

Her department had earlier told the Irish Independent that it had "a draft plan" for the new agency, which had been drawn up by the FAS board.

Referring to the new body, Mr O'Toole told the media in Galway: "De facto, it's a new organisation.

"How it's going to be finally structured and things like the name and all the detail have to be worked out".

And Mr O'Toole was unable to provide assurances to the 2,000 workers in FAS about their future. He did not answer questions about staffing levels.

Asked if they would all continue to be employed under the new training agency, Mr O'Toole said: "Like every other agency in the public sector, our numbers are under scrutiny.

"But we have numbers of people who are leaving the organisation through natural retirements, etc, and we have no indication, other than that, (that) the process will continue.


"In other words, we are not expecting compulsory redundancy."

Mr O'Toole acknowledged that morale within the organisation had taken a battering, but it was the "absolute aim" to restore public confidence. Management realised fully that there had been a lot of public disquiet and public comment in relation to certain aspects of FAS, but there was an untold aspect of FAS which was very difficult to get heard when there were plenty of other headlines.

"The strength and commitment to supporting people will be carried forward to whatever new arrangements emerge and we will ensure that the quality of service we provide -- that whatever comes after us now, is of absolute top quality, makes a difference to people and is recognised as such," he said.

Ms Coughlan offered scant detail about the successor to FAS when she spoke to the media in Maynooth. She confirmed that the Government would not publish its plans for killing off FAS until January, leaving the country's job-seekers in the dark for another two months about the future of the new agency.

She confirmed, however, that the board of FAS had asked that she consider its proposals before making a decision on the direction of the new body.

A "considerable amount of work" had already been done, she insisted and it was "hugely important" to get a focused agency in place.

Her comments were dismissed by opposition politicians who demanded she publish details of the successor to FAS without delay.

Labour's Ruairi Quinn said that her announcement was going to do a lot of damage.

He said: "That uncertainty is going to undermine the credibility of existing courses.

"It's going to undermine the confidence of the public and finally, it's going to seriously damage the motivation and morale of staff".

Irish Independent