Tuesday 24 October 2017

Health chiefs splashed out on €78 wine and left €300 tip

Anne-Marie Walsh and Shane Phelan

HEALTH and safety bosses dined out on €78 bottles of wine and left a €300 tip at a Michelin-starred restaurant at the taxpayers' expense.

The Health and Safety Authority has admitted that the spending was "not reasonable" after an Irish Independent investigation revealed that it ran up bills of more than €2,000 on some meals, washed down with large quantities of alcohol.

However, the authority said it would not look for a refund of the spending, which was made on chief executive Martin O'Halloran's credit card.

A probe of the credit card expenditure of the state agency's bosses between 2006 and 2010 showed large sums were spent on lunches and dinners at upmarket eateries after board and staff meetings.

But no records exist for much of the spending and the agency admitted that staff did not submit receipts until relatively recently.

The revelations came after evidence of unvouched and excessive spending at other state agencies, including FAS and the HSE, came to light in the past few years.

Taxpayers' money was also used to pay for a 'Staff Well-being Event', where the state employees were in with a chance to win a €200 voucher for a beauty and hair salon in Limerick.


Another €1,190 was spent on a 'team-building' event at a Dublin pub to reward staff for moving to smaller offices -- where they had 5,000 sq ft less space -- in 2006.

Among the more pricey outings was a €925 dinner for eight at the Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant on Parnell Square in Dublin in June 2008, charged to Mr O'Halloran's card.

The group enjoyed three bottles of Nuits-Saint-Georges Vieilles wine at €78 each, a bottle of Chablis Premier Cru Fourcha for €55, gin and tonics and Jamesons with their food.

The previous year, a tip of €300 was left when the authority hosted a €2,672 meal for a Chilean delegation at the Tea Room in U2's Clarence Hotel.

A total of €721 of the bill -- for 20 people -- was spent on 14 bottles of wine, while other drinks cost €151.

Celebrity chef Gary Rhodes's restaurant on Capel Street was another favourite haunt.

The cocktails flowed at a €579 dinner two years ago, where nine guests enjoyed six cosmopolitans, a Caipiroska, a Caipirinha, and other drinks.

Other spending included €346 for 'spot-prize' hampers, €231 for chocolates for staff conferences and €95 for a cake at Gammells Delicatessen in Ranelagh "to recognise the operational success of a call centre".

The authority admitted that the €78 bottles of wine and the €300 tip were "not reasonable" spending.

It said the €78 bottle of wine was bought at a meeting of its counterpart organisations in the North and in Britain, and the wine selection was a "genuine mistake".

It is understood that the wine was not chosen by Mr O'Halloran, but a member of the board.

"This situation would not arise in current practice and policy," a spokesman for the authority said.

The authority said that more robust spending curbs had been imposed since 2009, including a requirement that receipts be submitted to its finance unit.

In addition, it said that the board no longer had lunch following its meetings, and alcohol was not purchased at work events following staff meetings.

"The practice of bringing staff for a meal with wine following end-of-year review meetings has long since ceased," it said.


"However, we occasionally have a representation requirement for visitors which could include the purchase of alcohol within reason and this would be controlled by the cardholder."

It said that credit card expenditure last year was about half of its 2008 level and almost 75pc of this was made up of flight costs, while the overall budget was €22.2m -- a saving of almost €4m since 2007. However, it said that previous lunches afforded "an opportunity to discuss the work of the board and the authority in a less formal setting".

The authority said the practice of staff members in units, departments and divisions having annual meals "was seen as recognition for the year's work", but the practice ended in 2009.

Five senior members of staff have credit cards, with limits ranging between €5,000 for assistant chief executives to €10,000 for the chief executive and €20,000 for a card used to book flights.

Funding for the cards comes directly from the chief executive's general budget, and he signs off on spending in each division.

Irish Independent

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