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Monday 22 October 2018

Harney's husband faces grilling over FAS bills for foreign travel

Former FAS chairman Brian Geoghegan, pictured with his wife, Health Minister Mary Harney, is one of several witnesses called to appear before the Public Accounts Committee next week
Former FAS chairman Brian Geoghegan, pictured with his wife, Health Minister Mary Harney, is one of several witnesses called to appear before the Public Accounts Committee next week

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

HEALTH Minister Mary Harney's husband will be grilled by the Dail's spending watchdog about FAS expenditure on overseas travel, the Irish Independent has learned.

Former FAS chairman Brian Geoghegan is one of several high-profile witnesses due to appear before the Public Accounts committee next week.

However, suspended FAS executive Greg Craig is considered "highly unlikely" to do so, sources indicated last night.

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.

The Public Accounts committee, which is chaired by Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, is due to hold its fourth meeting next Thursday into spending irregularities and overseas travel at FAS, which has a budget of €1bn and around 2,200 employees.

The committee has also invited the suspended FAS director of corporate affairs, Greg Craig, to appear. He went on sick leave after a report from the watchdog questioned many of the advertising spending decisions he was responsible for.

A letter, seen by the Irish Independent, and sent by Mr Craig to the new interim FAS director general Eddie Sullivan, indicates he wants access to all his files in FAS, a guarantee that his committee appearance will not affect the ongoing disciplinary investigation against him and legal representation. He also revealed that he was appealing his suspension and wanted to return to work.

Sources last night said it is "highly unlikely" Mr Craig would appear before the committee next week, given the number of concerns he has raised. However, he is expected to send a detailed letter which contains up to 50 incidents which he believes were inaccurately portrayed by FAS management during the committee hearings.

Reputation

In his letter, Mr Craig also revealed that he was considering taking legal action against FAS for suspending him last month, "for the injury suffered and the damage to my good name, reputation and career".

The committee has made the decision to invite former FAS chairman Mr Geoghegan to question him about his knowledge of internal audits into spending irregularities in FAS, and the level of overseas travel by senior executives.

He was appointed to the post in 2000 by Ms Harney, who was then Enterprise and Employment Minister. They married in 2001.

Mr Geoghegan is a former Economic Policy Director with the employers' group IBEC and currently is chairman of the public relations firm MKC Communications. He was not available for comment yesterday on the committee's invitation but he is expected to attend.

Other former FAS executives invited for the first time next week include former FAS director general Dr John Lynch, who is the current chairman of CIE, and former assistant director Gerry Pyke. Both are expected to accept the committee's invitation to attend.

The committee also has the power to compel witnesses to attend -- as it did with all of the banking witnesses brought before the committee during the DIRT tax inquiry in 1999.

Chairman Mr Allen said the committee hoped to have its public sittings concluded by Christmas and its interim report into spending at FAS published by the end of next month.

"We are not delaying the process in any way, as some commentators have suggested," he said.

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