JUST 12 trainees have completed courses at a €6.7m Fás college which opened at the start of the year, prompting the Dáil’s Public Accounts watchdog (PAC) to launch an investigation.
The state employment agency, which has already come under fire due to rampant overspending and the severance deal paid to its former director general Rody Molloy, confirmed the Mount Lucas centre in Offaly has only taken in 12 students so far for courses which run for a maximum of 12 weeks.
The centre, which is based on 33 acres a few miles outside Tullamore in Co Offaly, has no access to public transport. The moratorium on public sector hiring means there is only one lecturer working in the facility.
The chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, Fine Gael Deputy Bernard Allen, said the PAC would be investigating the cost and operation of the centre.
“These are complaints that have come to my attention and they will be investigated by the PAC,” he said.
Mr Allen said the PAC would probe not just the Mount Lucas facility but also “other Fás investments in this county”.
The sod was turned on the Mount Lucas facility, in Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s constituency, in October 2007 and was handed over to Fás in March of this year. It has cost €6.7m so far, paid in three tranches, but still requires a canteen/dining area and an area for drying clothes, Fás said. It has capacity for 50 trainees a day, but so far just 12 trainees have completed courses.
Those courses are related to the construction industry, such as for construction plant operators, but other courses intended for the facility include health and safety and environmental courses which will run from one to 12 weeks in duration.
A spokesperson for Fás said the facility is still not fully commissioned and that it will pay its way over the next few years.
But Labour’s finance spokeswoman, Joan Burton TD, said it was fair to question whether Mount Lucas was “a white elephant”.
“There are people desperate to access training and up-skilling, but Fás seems incapable of producing reforms that would get people in and get people training,” she said. “We cannot afford any more to have facilities like this lying idle.”
It is understood the Comptroller and Auditor General is also looking into the Mount Lucas facility and its costs.
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