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Defending the indefensible

IN claiming that the reason the former FAS director general was given a larger than necessary severance package was that the Government wanted to initiate rapid change in the organisation, the Tanaiste is attempting to defend the indefensible and to rationalise the inexplicable.

Government protestations do nothing to diminish the public perception that the deal was a secretive betrayal of public trust and that there was more to it than meets the eye.

The revelation about the topped-up payment gives the lie to the consistent assertions by Mary Coughlan and Brian Cowen that the deal struck with Mr Molloy was no more than the public service norm. The €3.8m golden handshake exceeds the 'public service norm' by almost €900,000.

Last September, a Department of Finance official told the Dail Public Accounts Committee that the Tanaiste had been eager to see the quick departure of the FAS chief so as to neutralise a threat of legal action.

As we now know, this led to the director general demanding -- and getting -- a king's ransom, paid from public funds, plus a pension package that was even more inflated than was first disclosed.

It seems odd that, at the time, neither the minister nor Mr Molloy himself saw any need to seek legal advice as to what might be won or lost had the affair ended up in the courts. We are asked to suppose that were Mr Molloy dismissed for his part in presiding over massive waste of taxpayers' money, taxpayers might have faced an even bigger bill.

In the public mind, the excesses in FAS was a culture of self-indulgence which was carefully and systematically hidden from them.

Yesterday, the Tanaiste assured us that reform is under way at FAS, with a new regime in place, and she insisted that if the Molloy deal had not been struck, the organisation might still be mired in the courts. Instead, for the good of the training body and its employees, FAS has been moved on.

That sounds fair, as far as it goes, but the extraordinary Molloy deal still smacks of reward for failure, a phenomenon seen as the preserve of top civil and public servants, politicians and bankers. Defending such a shoddy culture simply feeds cynicism.

Irish Independent