THE Government is rejecting calls to close down Fás after the state training agency was embroiled in fresh controversy over how it used EU money.
The Government is losing out on tens of millions of euro of European Commission grants because it did not provide the EU with information it required for an audit of how Fás was spending money.
The Government has not applied for the EU social fund grant since November after failing to satisfactorily answer questions from the EU during its audit of how the money was spent.
The director of the European Commission office in Dublin said the two issues were “clearly” linked and the money had “de facto” been withdrawn.
The Labour Party said the latest revelations, coming on top of previous controversies over expense claims at the agency, show that Fás has lost all credibility and should be closed down.
Education spokesperson Ruairí Quinn said the fund for education and training “has to be fundamentally reviewed”.
However, significantly, SIPTU departed from its normally staunch support of Labour, with its president Jack O’Connor saying Mr Quinn was “totally and completely wrong” and that “rowing in with the populist demonisation of Fás” was a poor substitute for visionary and innovative policy-making in response to the most serious economic and social challenge society has faced for many decades.
Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe said there has been a “massive transformation” at Fás and he has full confidence in its board.
“We should have confidence in what is now in place and give them an opportunity to ensure the proper functioning of Fás, proper controls being put in place and delivery of training services that is absolutely necessary at a time of serious downturn and serious unemployment in the country,” he said.
Chairman of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Bernard Allen said Fás is still “a shambles”.
“It’s very disturbing at a time when we have approaching half a million people unemployed, at a time when courses are badly needed and funding for those courses badly needed that we have this
problem with the Commission,” the Fine Gael TD said.
It also emerged that hundreds of people who completed courses in the scheme funded by European money have still not received their certificates.
Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd said: “I understand that hundreds of Fás trainees on privately-run courses have not received their qualifications because of uncertainty over course standards.
“However, there is good reason to believe that as many as 1,000 trainees are in limbo across the country.”
He rubbished claims by Taoiseach Brian Cowen that problems at the training agency were “legacy issues”.
“Fás is still reeling from earlier revelations that a number of exams had been falsified to improve the pass rate. The agency was supposed to have tackled problems involving private sector course providers after Fine Gael exposed multiple scandals in training courses. Clearly it has not.”
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