Saturday 20 October 2018

Fas chief should 'not have been driven out'

Top diplomat jumps to defence of Molloy as full investigation promised

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

One of Ireland's most respected civil servants has said that Fas chief executive Rody Molloy "should not have been driven out" of his job as head of the €1bn-a-year state agency.

Michael Lillis, a former leading civil servant and diplomat, said that Mr Molloy "played an important part for a generation in developing the Irish economy".

"Our economy is now in a fight for survival. We must not allow uninformed, populist, hypocritical or politically-motivated Puritanism to discourage those who are fighting for us on the front lines of job creation from doing what is necessary to win opportunity for our country in a shrinking but ever more competitive world market," he said.

His intervention came after a week of damaging revelations about the state training agency which began in the Sunday Independent. The litany of first-class air travel for Fas board members and executives and lavish spending on restaurants, limousines and golf led to a public outcry and Mr Molloy's resignation last Tuesday.

Several major investigations are now underway into the financial affairs of the stage agency, including probes by the Comptroller and Auditor General along with an Internal Audit ordered by the board itself. There is also a Garda Fraud Squad investigation which does not relate to recent revelations about Mr Molloy's expenses.

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee will also ask the Director of Corporate Enforcement to look into the relationship between certain companies and the Corporate Affairs division of Fas.

But Mr Lillis, who headed the Anglo-Irish section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and is a former Irish Ambassador to the United Nations, said yesterday that people with Mr Molloy's "talents and patriotic energy" were scarce in public and private life in Ireland.

"Now, even more than during the good years we need his kind of energetic commitment," Mr Lillis said in a letter to the Irish Times listing Mr Molloy's achievements as a civil servant.

"He was an indefatigable and extraordinarily effective negotiator who won the respect and the affection of his colleagues," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Molloy, who lives in a modest house in Maynooth, Co Kildare, left his home, which has been besieged by the media, for the first time in days. He has so far refused to comment on his resignation and did not appear before the Dail Public Accounts Committee last week.

In the hours leading up to his resignation, it is believed that Mr Molloy came under serious pressure from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan.

During a series of late-night phone calls from Dubai, the minister made it clear to the Fas chief executive that she was deeply unhappy about the damage that was being inflicted on the jobs agency.

But Mr Lillis, a former top civil servant who later became managing director of the aviation arm of American multi-national GE Capital, defended Mr Molloy.

"I can vouch for the fact that Mr Molloy and several colleagues regularly used their personal funds to cover part of their official entertainment duties when, as frequently happened, the official funds for these purposes were inadequate."

Defending Minister for Health Mary Harney, who had her hair blowdried at the expense of Fas during a trip to Florida, Mr Lillis said: "I say shame on those who are seeking her political destruction because of this absurd and utterly unworthy pretext."

Yesterday, the board of Fas assured the Tanaiste Mary Coughlan that "a full examination of past practices is required" and said it is "determined to place all matters in the public domain."

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