Friday 16 November 2018

Fas spent €30,000 to video US astronaut's Irish visit

MAEVE SHEEHAN

FAS spent almost €30,000 on a film crew to capture the visit of an American astronaut the agency invited to Ireland.

The free-spending agency splashed out on video facilities to film the visit in 2006 of Commander Eileen Collins, who was a guest of Fas to promote a science project.

MaxFilms charged Fas €7,856 for filming Ms Collins in Cork and €16,000 while touring Dublin schools. Hire of a cameraman and equipment cost an extra €5,900.

The €30,000 was on top of the €13,000 spent on driving Commander Collins around Ireland in chauffeur-driven limousines. Invoices released by Fine Gael yesterday showed that some senior executives at the company also availed of the chauffeuring service during her visit.

The invoices provide further examples of profligate spending at the agency, which lavished €643,000 on business class flights for its top brass over four years.

The revelations, disclosed by Senator Shane Ross in the Sunday Independent last weekend, caused public outrage and political embarrassment in a week when the Government launched a plan for public sector reform.

Rody Molloy, the director-general of Fas resigned last Tuesday.

New invoices released by Fine Gael show how the taxpayer also footed the $194 bill for a new suitcase for John Cahill, the manager of Fas science programme. His luggage broke during a trip to Florida in April 2004 and a replacement was charged to Fas. Taxis for one five-day trip to Houston came in at $791.

Fas bought seven children's astronaut suits at Kennedy Space Station for $309, although the expense forms

FAS ANALYSIS PAGES 27, 29, 31 & 40 & SHANE ROSS BUSINESS SECTION

note unusual thrift in recording that FAS got "almost" a 20 per cent discount. However, the cost of shipping them back to Ireland came to $142.

Fas picked up the tab for the $2,649.60 bill made out to Helicopter Adventures Ltd in Florida, where Irish Air Corps apprentices were sent for training.

The bill was submitted by Tony Gannon, a former Irish civil servant who is now a director of education at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, and who is credited with helping get the Fas Science project off the ground.

The bill, dated October 2004, included the $1,500 cost of a used automobile, presumably for the students to work on, plus their insurance and other costs.

Meanwhile, concerns over years of uncontrolled spending at Fas have broadened as it emerged that a new case of alleged suspicious transactions are being investigated by the Garda fraud squad.

A separate investigation is already under way into claims of alleged overcharging to the tune of $160,000 by a firm contracted to work for Fas.

The Fas board issued a statement yesterday saying it has beefed up its financial controls, following a meeting with the Tanaiste and Enterprise Minister, on Friday. It said: "The Board intends to strengthen the internal audit function within Fas, and will consider the use of external support and assistance in the coming period as required. This will help accelerate the audit work underway in the corporate affairs area, and will help the organisation interface with the Comptroller and Auditor General as he begins his examination of the effectiveness of the management and control systems in Fas."

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