| 5.1°C Dublin

FF ministers paid €62m to keep 'partners' happy

More than €62m of taxpayers' money was paid to social partners by Fianna Fail ministers and their departments over the past decade, a Sunday Independent investigation has revealed.

Today we lay bare the incredible extent to which taxpayers' money was channelled from government departments to social partners, including public sector unions, in order to "prevent industrial unrest".

Fine Gael's deputy finance spokesman, Brian Hayes, has described the revelations as a "damning indictment" of Fianna Fail's Social Partnership deal.

According to documents obtained by this newspaper, a seemingly bottomless pit of taxpayers' money was paid over to unions, local authority organisations and lobby groups all in the interest of industrial peace.

As a result of our investigation, we found:

  • In total, more than €62.7m was paid to social partners in the past decade.
  • The Department of Environment under Noel Dempsey and Martin Cullen paid out €37.7m between 2000 and 2004 to "prevent industrial unrest at local government level".
  • Mr Dempsey was in charge of the Department of the Environment when grants worth €790,000 were paid. Mr Dempsey said he had "no recollection" of these events and referred queries to the Department of the Environment.
  • Missing invoices were sought from Siptu over an unaccounted €200,000.
  • Monies were used for foreign trips to the US, Canada and Spain for local authority and union officials.
  • €1.62m was paid by the Department of Education under Mary Hanafin and Batt O'Keeffe to teachers' unions for training.
  • A €6.5m payout to health social partners in 2004 occurred when new FF leader Micheal Martin was Health Minister.
  • While Enterprise Minister between 2004-2007, Mr Martin oversaw payments of more than €5.7m.
  • €9.95m of taxpayers' money was paid to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) for "education, training and advisory services". The fund covered 80 per cent of expenditure on training and advisory services for union officials and activists.
  • Tanaiste Mary Coughlan's Enterprise Department paid out more than €2.7m to unions between 2008 and 2010.
  • €3.74m was paid by Eamon O Cuiv's Community and Rural Affairs department between 2007 and 2010.
  • €569,000 was given to the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec), €134,000 given to the Construction Industry Federation.
  • €70,000 was paid by Brian Lenihan's Department of Finance toward the "operating expenses of the Civil Service General Staff Council Panel", including €48,000 to the ICTU.

The largest amount of money paid out, €37.7m, was by the Department of the Environment and Local Government under Mr Dempsey and Mr Cullen between 2000 and 2004.

Funds were channelled through a Local Author- ity National Partnership Advisory Group, under recommendations from four trustees, including two union officials.

The taxpayer also footed a bill of €91,000 for trade union officials, local authority officials and an official from the Department of the Environment to take trips to the US, Canada and Spain.

Also, paid out was an amount of €790,000, which ended up in the same bank account as the controversial €2.3m in HSE funds, and which was controlled by Siptu official Matt Merrigan.

"Overall, the sector has enjoyed good industrial relations in the past decade, without any major industrial disputes and while maintaining service delivery," departmental documentation said.

That matter is currently under investigation by Siptu.

We also discovered that out of that €790,000, the department has sought copies of invoices for an unaccounted €200,000 payment to Siptu.

"At the Department's request, the Local Government Management Agency has written to Siptu seeking copies of invoices not currently made available in respect of €200,000 granted to Siptu for the purposes of training," the documentation revealed.

While Minister for Health, Mr Martin approved payments totalling €6.5m in 2004 to Social Partnership groups.

The Sunday Independent sought clarification as to his exact role in the granting of such payments and was told that the payments were "approved by the department with the support of the minister of the day".

While Minister for Enterprise during 2004 and 2007, Mr Martin's department made payments of more than €5.7m to trade unions for the development of "partnership".

Speaking yesterday, Mr Hayes said that the figures reveal a "gravy train or slush fund par excellence" and such practices must never be allowed happen again.

"These sort of practices must be exposed and stopped once and for all.

"Let's remember that Micheal Martin has been FF leader for 10 days but has been at the cabinet table for the past 14 years," he said.

A Siptu spokesman confirmed yesterday that the union received money for two purposes.

"Firstly, money was given to Industrial Engineering to support productivity and secondly to subsidise shop steward training," he said.

"We can't specify the amounts paid, but they wouldn't be remotely near the level presented by the Sunday Independent.

"All amounts were scrupulously accounted for and the records are available to show that," he added.

An Ibec spokesman said yesterday: "National Workplace Strategy funding went towards a number of practical initiatives specifically design-ed to improve competitiveness and productivity in the workplace."

The ICTU said that all of the funds received were entirely legitimate and it utterly rejected Mr Hayes's comments.

A spokesman for the ICTU said it was ironic that Fine Gael used such terms given it was in receipt of taxpayers' money, too.

Last October, controversy arose when it emerged that senior officials from the HSE, the Department of Health and other government organisations were accused of using a €2.3m "slush fund" to travel with unions on dozens of foreign trips.

Three Department of Health officials even brought their wives along with them -- although the department said this was paid for personally by the officials themselves.

The money intended for staff training was instead used to pay for the trips to the US, Canada, Australia, Brussels and Hong Kong.

It came from a €2.3m bank account controlled by Mr Merrigan and another Siptu official and was funded mainly by the HSE's Skills programme.

Sunday Independent