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FAS executive Craig won't appear before spending watchdog

SUSPENDED FAS executive Greg Craig has refused to appear before the Dail's spending watchdog to answer questions about spending irregularities and expenditure on lavish overseas travel.

Mr Craig, who is appealing against his suspension from his position as FAS's director of corporate affairs, wrote to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday declining their invitation to appear at a hearing on Thursday.

He has been on sick leave since last June, when a report from the state spending watchdog questioned several of the advertising spending decisions he had been responsible for.

An audit of Mr Craig's corporate affairs department is ongoing and he has been suspended from his position since late November.

The PAC wrote to Mr Craig and three former leading figures at the state training authority last week, inviting them to attend the committee hearing.

Also invited before the committee were Health Minister Mary Harney's husband and former FAS chairman Brian Geoghegan, former FAS director general Dr John Lynch, who is the current chairman of CIE, and former assistant director Gerry Pyke.

It is understood Mr Craig argued that it would be unprecedented for a suspended employee, who had not been at work for several months, to appear to give evidence.

It is also understood he stated his fear that any evidence he would give would prejudice any future actions or proceedings he may take against FAS.

Mr Craig formally wrote to his employers on December 1 appealing against his suspension, which he claimed was in breach of procedures.

Suspended

He has previously claimed he was precluded by FAS from speaking to the committee. However, FAS's assistant director general Christy Cooney has insisted that while Mr Craig could not talk about why he was suspended, he was free to discuss the issues the PAC was investigating.

Although the PAC has powers to compel Mr Craig to appear before them, it is not yet clear whether it will now do so. In theory, the PAC has at its disposal tribunal-style powers to force witnesses to attend public hearings upon pain of a potential €25,000 fine or a two-year prison term.

If a compelled witness disobeys the PAC, the committee can apply to the High Court seeking an order for a witness to comply.

With Mr Craig not set to be in attendance, the committee will spend Thursday focusing on the other witnesses it has called.

Mr Geoghegan was the chairman of the state training agency between 2000 and 2005 and flew out with Ms Harney on the government jet to visit the FAS Science Challenge Project in Florida in 2004.He was appointed to the post in 2000 by Ms Harney, who was then Enterprise and Employment Minister. They married in 2001.

Mr Geoghegan, a former economic policy director with the employers' group IBEC, is now chairman of public relations firm MKC Communications.