Monday 19 November 2018

Incoming GAA president faces spending quiz

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

INCOMING GAA president Christy Cooney is set to be quizzed about the lavish spending by FAS executives today.

As the agency's assistant director with responsibility for human resources, he is due to appear before the Public Accounts committee in the wake of the resignation of its director general Rody Molloy.

He will face questions about the €643,000 spent on foreign travel by FAS executives over the past four years, as well as spending irregularities identified in FAS's €9m annual advertising budget.

Although the committee has requested Mr Molloy to appear as well, it has not been confirmed that he will be present.

Mr Cooney (52), from Youghal, Co Cork, won the race earlier this year to succeed current GAA president Nicky Brennan and is due to take over next April for a three-year term. He had previously been defeated in his first run for the presidency in 2005, after standing against the opening of Croke Park.

The GAA president-elect has already appeared before the Public Accounts committee (PAC) on two separate occasions with Mr Molloy. He is one of seven assistant directors with FAS and may be considered as a temporary replacement for Mr Molloy. But he is due to take a leave of absence next April to take up his role with the GAA.

The committee chairman, Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, said the committee has received a large volume of documents from FAS, which it will use to question Mr Cooney and other senior executives at today's meeting.

"We'll be dealing with the issues of the FAS internal audits and the travel and subsistence issues also," he said.

But the committee has received a single-page document in response to its request for details on the €5.7m spent by FAS last year on travel and subsistence. Mr Allen said the committee would be looking for far more information, given that FAS had provided specific receipts under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Allen confirmed that the committee also wanted Mr Molloy to attend the hearing, despite his resignation.

"I think it would be good to have him to assist us in our work. Being a man with 40 years' public service, you would hope he would assist our deliberations," he said.

Mr Allen dismissed claims yesterday in the Dail by Taoiseach Brian Cowen that the committee's legal advisers had agreed with FAS that its internal audits into the spending irregularities be edited. Mr Allen said the section audits had been "blacked out by FAS" and and could only have been seen if the committee used its "compellability" powers.

Mr Cooney has been involved with the FAS internal audit team, which was set up by the agency in 2004 to investigate allegations of a criminal nature made anonymously to then Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister Mary Harney. The head of the internal audit team, Niall Saul, is also due to attend.


But documents released to newspapers under the Freedom of Information Act show that there were serious differences at one stage between Mr Cooney and Mr Saul, over how far the investigation into the spending irregularities could go.

At one stage, Mr Saul told Mr Cooney in a letter that if he did not comply with the internal audit committee requirements, "we will have no option but to escalate this matter to board level".

Mr Cooney responded in a letter saying he had no issue with most of the committee's concerns but did have a "fundamental issue with your committee overseeing the disciplinary process".

His GAA role came up at the Enterprise committee hearing into FAS last July when its chairman, Labour TD Willie Penrose, congratulated him on the "important job" he would be taking up. Mr Cooney referred to his GAA links at the same meeting, when Mr Molloy informed committee members that he had his own tickets to Croke Park rather than relying on free ones from other sources.

"I assure the deputy I have as well," Mr Cooney said.

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