THE chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has called on the Government to explain why it has not applied for any of the €211 million in European funding available to the State training agency, Fás.
Last night Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen said it was “strange at a time of cutbacks” that the Department of Education, under whose remit Fás falls, had not applied to the European Social Fund (ESF) for any of the €200 million plus available to it for the period 2007 to 2013.
“At a time of cutbacks and when the Government is borrowing money at huge interest rates, it is odd that they are not drawing down money available from the ESF that could benefit training and education programmes at a time when so many people are unemployed,” Mr Allen said.
Last night the European Commission confirmed to RTE News that no application had been received from Irish authorities for funding under the ESF since November 2009. In that period, an EU audit identified problems in connection with Fás courses run by private contractors. The European Commission is also reviewing how money was spent in the period 2002-2006, when €407 million in funds was made available to the State training agency, in the belief that similar problems may be identified.
On RTE News last night, Martin Territt, director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, said there had been an absence of audit at Fás, “in other words there was no paper trail as to how some of this money was spent”.
He said Irish authorities had been asked to respond by the end of the month.
The Department of Education said it had until 2017 to apply for funding and it had never intended to apply this year, and the decision not to apply had nothing to do with an audit.
However, Mr Allen said he believed there was a “fear factor” in Government circles in relation to drawing down the money and the PAC intends to pursue the matter further.
The controversy is just the latest in a series of scandals regarding spending controls at the State training agency.
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