Concern has been expressed over the way some €2.5m in taxpayers’ money was used to monitor the compliance of childcare providers.
The matter raises the first controversy for James Reilly in his new role as children’s minister.
An internal audit at the Children’s Department stated it was “extremely difficult to support the annual fee of €2.5m”, given to Pobal, a registered charity, to carry out the checks, according to an investigation by RTÉ.
Monitoring of childcare providers is a key part of the Government’s free pre-school year initiative.
Auditors noted Pobal’s fee was worked out as a percentage of the total cost of the scheme, and as such its take increased with that of the initiative’s overall costs.
According to auditors, it appeared Pobal received up to more than €250,000 for each inspection officer, RTÉ stated.
Fianna Fáil’s children’s spokesman Robert Troy said the report “raises serious concerns regarding value for money, in particular regarding the €2.5m that is paid annually to Pobal in relation to the compliance of the pre- school year”.
He added: “What we have to now do is look at the recommendations that the report has highlighted to ensure that going forward there is value for money being achieved because at the end of the day we are talking about taxpayers’ money.”
Auditors also noted a possible conflict of interest due to compliance visits mainly being conducted by Pobal’s regional development co-ordinators.
Auditors warned use of such workers “risks significant conflict of interest, or at least a subconscious loss of objectivity, in carrying out the compliance visit”.
This was because regional development co-ordinators also provide wide- spread mentoring supports to childcare providers.
“It is best practice that audit-related functions should be carried out by persons that are independent of other operating responsibilities,” RTÉ quoted the audit report as stating.
Pobal said it had fully co-operated with the audit and was working with the Children’s Department to implement any changes arising from it.
The Children’s Department said it would extend the role of Pobal in the administration of the pre-school year and other programmes.
The Children’s Department said it had received advice that the contract with Pobal was in line with EU law.
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