Wednesday 13 December 2017

Showdown looms over €2.3m of State money in Siptu account


THE Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are set for the first public showdown over the governance of a trade union slush fund at a Dail committee meeting next month.

Michael Scanlan, the secretary-general at health, and Cathal Magee, the HSE's new chief executive, will be asked to explain to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) how more than €2.3m of taxpayers' money ended up in a Siptu bank account, with no controls over how it was spent.

The health chiefs are due before the PAC on October 7 to be interviewed for the first time about the affair since the scandal broke earlier this year.

The €2.3m was paid to Siptu by the Department of Health as part of an overall allocation of €12m each year to the Skill programme for the training of lower-paid health staff.

However, a HSE internal audit revealed that money from the Siptu fund was used to pay for study trips and foreign travel for government officials and union activists.

The money was paid into a Siptu bank account accessed by a long-standing union official. However, much of it could not be accounted for and Siptu denied knowledge of it.

Last week, it emerged that an additional €876,000 had also been lodged to a Siptu account, according to a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG).

The additional €876,000 was paid through a health service partnership forum, which had been set up to foster co-operation between management and unions.

The HSE has reported the matter to the Garda Fraud Squad, while the Department of Finance, the Department of Health and Siptu have launched their own investigations.

The Public Accounts Committee is expected to highlight the differences between the HSE and the Department of Health over how the union training fund -- which now amounts to €3m -- was administered.

Michael Scanlan has already clashed with Cathal Magee's predecessor, Professor Brendan Drumm, over the slush fund.

Leaked correspondence revealed that Mr Scanlan accused the HSE of failing to attach governance arrangements to the grant.

He also accused the HSE of fundamental weaknesses in the governance, accountability and control of the Skill programme.

Professor Drumm countered that the Mr Scanlan and his department also had issues arising out of the affair that they needed to address.

The health chiefs will also be asked why the trade union was given the money in the first place. Mr Scanlan is expected to claim that the fund was agreed with the trade unions when industrial relations in the health sector were at their worst.

Bernard Allen TD, chairman of the PAC, said: "It may seem to have been a reward for going into social partnership, but we cannot rush to judgement."

The HSE audit identified 31 foreign trips undertaken by civil servants, health-service staff and trade-union representatives, including visits to the US, Australia, Hong Kong and Britain. But the C&AG found that many of these trips were not part of the Skill programme and were funded out of the Siptu bank account.

The C&AG reported that some of the trips "were not integral to the Skill programme" and their only connection is the fact that the costs were met out of funding that had been provided out of the Skill budget.

Sunday Independent

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