Training fund spent on €12,000 taxi bill and 31 foreign journeys
THE full extent of foreign trips funded by a controversial €2.35m State training fund investigated by gardai has been revealed.
A total of 31 visits were taken over a seven-year period between 2002 and 2009, including trips to Australia, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, a variety of UK destinations, Savannah, in Georgia, US, and New York around St Patrick's Day.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) claims it channelled the Department of Finance funding into a SIPTU account to run a training programme for low-skilled workers, but cannot account for the spending.
The Irish Independent has learned that cheques for the controversial training programme were lodged in the Bank of Ireland branch where SIPTU holds its accounts.
Sources said a HSE audit revealed that cheques totalling €250,000 a year ended up in the same Dublin branch where the union does its banking.
They also revealed the money was used to cover a €12,000 taxi bill, plus hotel and restaurant expenses.
Officials from the HSE and departments of Finance and Health were among those who went on some of the trips.
Foreign travel included:
- A trip to New York in 2004, 2005, and 2008.
- Two trips to New York in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
- One trip to LA in 2007
- A trip to Boston in 2007.
- A trip to Savannah in 2008.
- Trips to Australia, LA and Hong Kong in 2008.
- Ten trips to London.
- Trips to Birmingham, Sheffield, Oxford, Southampton, and Sheffield.
- A trip to Brussels.
However, HSE sources last night said foreign travel did not make up the bulk of the spending.
The HSE contacted gardai after completing the audit and also contacted SIPTU. One official is currently the subject of an internal union inquiry.
SIPTU insists it never received any of the money for the training programme, known as SKILL. The union claimed this had been verified by an audit of its accounts.
However, sources last night revealed the internal HSE audit obtained copies of cheques made payable to the union.
They claim the cheques were paid into a national health and local authority levy fund, and were then lodged into a branch of Bank of Ireland in Dublin.
The HSE audit found SIPTU's own general secretary confirmed the union holds its accounts at the same branch where the cheques were lodged.
It said the union leader, who is not named in the audit, said SIPTU would carry out its own investigation. SIPTU leader Jack O'Connor has insisted the union did not get any of the money.