Saturday 21 April 2018

Quinn orders inquiry into building site fraud claims

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn

John Downing and Brian Byrne

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn has ordered an investigation into allegations of welfare fraud on building projects funded by his department.

Mr Quinn told the Dail that he understood that the problem had been widespread over many years on building sites but he was now determined that it would be stopped and taxpayer-funded building contracts would be operated legally.

Fianna Fail TD Robert Troy told TDs a whistleblower had approached him with claims that a number of important state building contracts were awarded to legitimate contractors but the work was then passed on to sub-contractors who were operating from outside of this jurisdiction.

Mr Troy told the Dail that the sub-contractors were ignoring basic terms and conditions, facilitating wholesale social welfare fraud and failing to meet statutory obligations. He said one example was work currently being carried out on building an extension and refurbishing existing buildings at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra.

The Fianna Fail deputy said the whistleblower had already reported his concerns firstly to the Education Minister himself and later to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton.

"But nothing appears to have been done," he said.

The contract had been won by a major building contractor who was operating legitimately, but the work was being done by a sub-contractor operating outside the jurisdiction. "The whistleblower claims that this sub-contractor is paying rates which are far below the market rate and is facilitating workers to continue to receive a social welfare payment," Mr Troy said.

He said this practice was undermining legitimate builders who were paying PRSI and it was also depleting social welfare funds, which had already seen cuts in some areas.

"The law is being broken and the contract is the minister's responsibility," he said.

Mr Quinn said he knew about allegations made by the whistleblower and had asked his department officials to investigate the issue and this was ongoing at present.

Meanwhile, up to 100 construction workers staged a protest outside the Department of Education and Skills in Dublin yesterday over claims that the department awarded building projects to contractors who refused to co-operate with trade union organisers.

The protest by SIPTU and BATU trade union members was held to "highlight the failure of the department to uphold agreed industry terms and conditions for construction workers employed on projects within its School Building Programme", a SIPTU spokesperson said.

"By ignoring this situation, the department is actively contributing to the race to the bottom in workers' conditions that is taking place in the construction industry."

Irish Independent

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