‘Fragmented’ training agency board likely to resign next week, committee told

THE “fragmented” board of Fás is expected to resign next Thursday amid accusations of neglect in the oversight of excessive spending at the state training agency.

Chairman of the board, Peter McLoone, revealed in a Dáil committee yesterday that he has written to Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mary Coughlan, giving notice that he will resign when the board meets next week.

He told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that he wasn’t aware of the intention of any board members to resign but “that is the business to be addressed” at next Thursday’s meeting.

It is the first time the board will meet since a report published by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) earlier this month which highlighted wasteful spending by the agency, including a €600,000 bill for a TV ad that was never broadcast.

Mr McLoone said since then he has spoken to some board members and “expressed judgment as to what I thought they should do on Thursday next”.

He was responding to PAC chairman, Deputy Bernard Allen (Fine Gael) who said: “Since you have lost the confidence of your political masters and the board is fragmented, it’s about time that you all handed in your resignations.”

Following the publication of the C&AG report, Ms Coughlan said she was willing to accept the resignation of any board member who wished to do so.

Mr Allen suggested this should have been done following the committee’s own report on spending in Fás last February.

“We were working on legal advice that we shouldn’t call on the board to resign. But I think we said it as clearly as we could legally that it should reduce the numbers and reconstitute. So to a blind man that would be as good as saying that the board should consider its position,” he said.

Mr Allen suggested the board was “fragmented” after Mr McLoone gave a veiled criticism of board member, Niall Saul, who had gone on RTÉ radio just an hour earlier to say the board were kept in the dark about breaches of spending procedure.

Mr McLoone told the committee that he “would prefer” if that radio interview did not happen. “I have a very strong preference that board members would act through me as chairman,” he said.

“It is not appropriate that members of the board would go off individually to make a comment and in my experience it doesn’t happen in normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances,” he said.

Mr Saul, the employers’ representative on the Fás board, said the board were not made aware of a lot of what happened at executive level.

But Deputy Padraic McCormack (Fine Gael) said the board were “negligent” in their role.

Mr Allen inquired if there was “a feeling that if someone did raise questions they would be victimised” and asked if there was any “bullying or intimidation”.

The newly appointed Fás director general, Paul O’Toole, said he could not answer this but would endeavour to find out if there were any incidents.


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