Saturday 16 November 2019

I cannot do anything about FAS PR deal, says Quinn

Shane Phelan, Fionnan Sheahan and Majella O'Sullivan

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn last night washed his hands of responsibility for a €200,000 PR contract awarded by FAS, even though the money has yet to be paid.

The director general of FAS, Paul O'Toole, has denied being biased in the controversial award of a contract to a public relations firm with close links to Fine Gael.

Fleishman Hillard, whose head of consulting Mark Mortell was a key adviser to Fine Gael, won the contract on the day of the general election.

FAS admits the terms of the contract mean the money will be only paid based on the amount of public relations work it asks the consultancy firm to do.

Despite the contract not being for a set fee already paid, Mr Quinn said there was nothing he could do about it.

"This decision was made when FAS was an independent operation -- the numbers, in fact, as I understand it amount to just under €200,000 for a two-year period -- some of the money has not yet been spent and it is an operational matter for the FAS managers and authorities and it was a decision way before the election," he said.

After repeatedly refusing to say what the contract was worth, Mr Quinn was forced to divulge its value yesterday.

A FAS spokesperson said the contract was worth up to a maximum of €190,000 over a two-year period and payments depended on work commissioned.

Following a series of spending scandals at the organisation, Mr Quinn is committed to getting rid of FAS. But he has failed to give a timeframe for its replacement with a National Employment and Entitlements Service.


"The plans are still evolving, but a large section of what is FAS has been transferred already by the previous Government," he said.

"The community employment programmes and the related activities are under the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection and that's where it will stay; and the formal training element is vested in the Department of Education.

"And we are talking to the FAS people. I will be meeting them later this month and we will be looking at ways we can utilise the infrastructure of the institutes of technology and their training centres and the VEC sector to deliver training."

Meanwhile, Mr O'Toole denied there was bias shown in the awarding of the Fleishman Hillard contract in an email to staff at the state training agency. Mr O'Toole said the contract was not awarded on the basis of political party connections or his acquaintance with Mr Mortell.

Mr Mortell had previously worked with Mr O'Toole at Bord Failte and admits that, although he was not personally involved in tendering for the contract, his name was mentioned during the "pitch process".

Mr O'Toole was on the four-member 'tender panel' which selected Fleishman Hillard for the contract on February 25.

Irish Independent

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