Thursday 24 May 2018

Fraud probe fund paid for 28 trips by one HSE boss

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

A FORMER HSE official went on 28 overseas trips in seven years that were paid for through a controversial state-training fund now being probed by the fraud squad.

New documents reveal that retired HSE official Alan Smith was the most frequent flier out of a total of 56 trips taken by health service officials.

He was the former general manager of the SKILL training programme for low-skilled health service workers, which was funded by the HSE.

The gardai and Comptroller and Auditor General are investigating €5m in spending that was paid into an account used to fund the trips, which was run by a SIPTU official.

The investigations were launched after a HSE audit revealed much of the spending could not be accounted for.

It was used to fund trips abroad for HSE, Department of Health and Department of Finance officials, union officials and some spouses, and other expenses including laptops and taxis.

The new records show Mr Smith, who the HSE said had previously refused to cooperate with an investigation, went away every month bar February in the first half of 2009.

The HSE official retired in April that year.

The frequency of his travel increased over the years, as he took six trips in 2008 and 2007, four a year in 2006 and 2005, two in 2004 and one in 2003.

The report shows his travel was more extensive than estimated by a previous investigation commissioned by the HSE.

Wife

That investigation, by former IBEC director general Turlough O'Sullivan, found Mr Smith's wife accompanied him on four visits to the UK and one to Australia.

The new documents, compiled by the HSE for the Public Accounts Committee, show Mr Smith's travel costs were paid mainly from a 'SIPTU' fund.

They also show the HSE made subsistence payments to him, although the records are incomplete.

The extent of Mr Smith's travel is revealed in an updated list of trips he took by the HSE's internal audit section.

HSE assistant national director of internal audit Geraldine Smith said Mr Smith had confirmed details of most of the trips this year.

However, she said he limited the scope of Mr O'Sullivan's earlier investigation because he would not meet him or give him information.

Ms Smith said the list of trips is still only "preliminary" information because she said SIPTU had refused to provide records.

SIPTU has denied the account operated by a senior member of staff, Matt Merrigan, and a shop steward was an official account.

A number of officials currently employed by the HSE also went on trips.

Attempts to contact Mr Smith were unsuccessful last night.

Irish Independent

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