Monday 20 November 2017

Taoiseach defends handling of 'wasteful health spending'

The Government is not turning a blind eye to alleged wasteful spending in the health service, the Taoiseach insisted today.

Brian Cowen said no government or minister could condone a waste of state funds after a report detailed alleged misuse of public money by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

A training scheme for health workers is being investigated over claims of lavish spending and a slush fund being used to pay for parties, taxis and travel.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said it appeared as if the Government did not give a damn, while Labour leader Eamon Gilmore highlighted the botched e-voting plans and demanded Mr Cowen acknowledge it was money down the drain.

"This a scandalous situation, Taoiseach," Mr Kenny said.

"There is no accountability, no transparency and nobody being brought to boot here."

The controversy over the HSE training fund was sparked by an internal audit of the Skill project revealing over €2.5m of a €60m budget had been paid in to a bank account allegedly used by some officials at trade union Siptu.

It is understood auditors found inadequate documentation was submitted to back up claims worth €348,000 - which included a retirement party, over €12,500 on taxis, and charges for mobile phones, laptops, home broadband, gifts and gratuities.

In the Dail, Mr Cowen said the issue had been referred to the gardai, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Dail's public spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee.

He said the audit referred to administration expenses for a programme linked with care assistants.

Mr Kenny said there was a culture of "hear no waste, see no waste, speak no waste".

And he accused the Government of turning a blind eye to back office bureaucracy in the HSE and to the money spent on taxis by the HSE in the last four years.

"Either these were mass missions of mercy or an indication that public money met Wall Street, where money never sleeps," the Fine Gael leader said.

Mr Cowen said there was no question of anyone turning a blind eye.

But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore continued the attack, demanding the Taoiseach acknowledge the €50m waste of money on the now defunct e-voting plans.

Mr Cowen acknowledged the machines, rolled out eight years ago for use in the 2004 local and European elections, would not be used in this country.

"The question of their disposal is under consideration, but it is true that that is a loss to the exchequer and obviously it is a great disappointment in that respect," Mr Cowen said.

The Taoiseach said the scheme did not progress because the Government could not get cross-party support at the time.

Mr Gilmore said two years of the new 50c prescription charge would bring in the same amount of money as lost to the e-voting.

In April last year, Environment Minister John Gormley said a special task force was being set up to oversee the disposal of the equipment, which has also incurred storage charges thought to be in the tens of thousands of euro.

Press Association

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