| 6.3°C Dublin

Pay-probe school under scrutiny over meal deal

THE school at the centre of two investigations into bogus teaching payments is now embroiled in a third probe into school meals.

Since the School Meals Scheme started at the school a number of years ago, thousands of meals and snacks have been served to students by a company contracted to supply the food.

But last year a team of auditors from the Department of Social Protection began an investigation to reconcile the food items supplied against payments issued.

The scheme ended suddenly earlier this year and the suppliers withdrew, apparently ending their association with the school.

A new scheme is now in place with a different supplier.

The school, which is a long-established second-level institution in the West, but which cannot be named for legal reasons, now finds itself at the centre of an inquiry into the operation of the scheme.

Gardai and the Department of Education are both already investigating how the school improperly claimed thousands of euro to pay for a teacher who never worked there.

The School Meals Scheme, operated by the Department of Social Protection, provides meals to about 60,000 pupils in schools across the country.

Subsidised vouchers have been available to students at the school for the last five years. They have enabled the students to purchase a range of food items, up to a cooked meal for prices ranging from 90 cent to €2.50.

In a brief statement, replying to a series of questions from the Irish Independent, the Department of Social Protection said: "We have an ongoing programme of control in relation to all of our schemes, including the School Meals Scheme. The department does not comment in relation to individual cases".

The Irish Independent exclusively revealed yesterday that there were two investigations into a series of irregular payments claimed by the school from the department.

Detectives were called in to investigate after a department inquiry in January and February uncovered irregularities with payments totalling €37,000.

Concerns were also expressed about a further €17,000 claimed by the school.

All of the cash was drawn down using the department's online claims system and was supposed to be used to pay part-time teachers.

But a confidential report into the payment claims discovered that one person who is related to a retired staff member at the school never worked there.

Irish Independent