SIPTU says it could not sack 'slush fund' official
SIPTU has defended its decision to only impose a pay cut on a former official who operated a 'slush fund' without its knowledge.
The union's former national industrial secretary, Matt Merrigan, ran a bank account which received more than €4m in funds from the taxpayer over a seven-year period. It was used to pay for 'study trips' to the USA, Canada and Australia by himself, other trade union officials and senior public servants.
SIPTU general secretary Joe O'Flynn told the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday that the bank account had been set up by Mr Merrigan and another union official without the union's knowledge.
However, the union had been advised by a senior counsel that there were no grounds for dismissing Mr Merrigan.
"He was demoted from a national position to a sectoral position, which resulted in a serious reduction in salary and benefits," he said.
Fine Gael TD Simon Harris described the 'SIPTU National Health and Local Authority Levy Fund' bank account as a "slush fund" which was used for wining and dining and foreign travel.
Mr Merrigan, who retired last year, declined a request to appear before the committee.
The PAC heard that he went on four trips to New York between 2004 and 2007; to Savannah in Georgia in 2008; Brisbane, Australia in 2008; and New York again in 2009.
Mr Harris said it was also "likely or possible" that Mr Merrigan was in Orlando, Florida twice in 2007 and in California in 2008 and 2009.
Labour TD Derek Nolan questioned how Mr Merrigan, as a senior official, had been able to run a bank account with millions of euro going through it "under the noses" of SIPTU.
He said there was something seriously wrong that almost €1m of taxpayers' money had been wasted but only one person had retired in SIPTU and one in the HSE.
Around half of the money which went into the fund was spent for the legitimate purpose of training workers. But between 2004 and 2009, €598,000 was spent on travel and accommodation, €348,000 on marketing and promotions and €99,000 on hospitality.
Spouses of some of the people on the trips were also brought along using funds from the account. The committee heard that spouses refunded €139,000 in 2009.
The account was also used to pay a €46,000 bill for one restaurant and bar between 2004 and 2009.