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Sunday 21 January 2018

'Fresh start' on FAS board as employers and unions snubbed

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

TANAISTE Mary Coughlan has banished unions and employers from the new FAS board as part of a 'root and branch' transformation of the scandal-hit state training agency.

FAS has been rocked by the revelations about the scale of expenses claims for foreign travel made by its former executives and the millions of euro wasted on advertising and promotion.

Ms Coughlan confirmed yesterday that the new FAS board would be chaired by an experienced businessman.

The agency had previously been chaired by either a member of the employers' body, IBEC, or the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, both of which no longer have the automatic right to nominate a member.

Ms Coughlan said she wanted a "dynamic" board which would help FAS tackle the huge problem of unemployment

"I really want to say that effective governance is fundamental to the effective delivery of services," she said.

"The new board consists of members who have experience and expertise in different fields."

The size of the board has been reduced from 17 members to 11. FAS director-general Paul O'Toole will be an automatic member for the first time, which means that he and the board will be in constant contact.

This change was introduced in response to complaints that the previous FAS board had not been kept fully up to date about spending in the organisation.

The new FAS chairman, Michael Walsh, who was previously a director of pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb, said he was ready to tackle unemployment.


"I would not have taken on this role if I thought I couldn't turn this around into something very positive," he said.

"There is a clear pressure on us to deliver for young people who are unemployed and for people who lose their jobs. Our job is to provide the best training anywhere in Europe."

The FAS board positions were publicly advertised and around 250 applications were received.

All but two of the board members (Mr O'Toole and a senior civil servant from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment) were chosen from this pool of public applicants. It is understood Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe was given a consultative role and favoured the appointment of Cork Institute of Technology president Dr Brendan J Murphy to the board.

The Green Party was also given a consultative role and indicated its preference for the appointment of Dun Laoghaire Institute innovation manager Martin Hogan. He ran as a candidate for the Greens in the Seanad elections of 2007.

Other board members include 'Dragon's Den' presenter Sean Gallagher and former Fianna Fail TD Tony Dempsey, who is the chairman of the Enniscorthy Enterprise Centre.

Fine Gael's enterprise spokesman, Leo Varadkar, said most of the new board was already on other state boards or working as civil servants. "There will be no fresh start for FAS if the board is dominated by officials or insiders," he said.

But Ms Coughlan defended the make-up of the board, saying the bona fides of all its members were "second to none".

She added: "Their enthusiasm in supporting FAS and people who are unemployed is very much their focus. "Many of them are bringing experience from the trades, which is very important."

The previous FAS chairman, IMPACT general secretary Peter McLoone, resigned last year along with the entire board, in response to a deluge of criticism in the wake of revelations about expenses. His predecessor as chairman was IBEC official Brian Geoghegan, who was appointed by his future wife, Mary Harney.

Irish Independent

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