TÁNAISTE Mary Coughlan has been pressed to account for her support of the board of Fás when details of its wastefulness emerged — only to completely change her stance last month.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said as the controversy broke Ms Coughlan backed the board but was now willing to accept its resignation en masse.
During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil Mr Kenny said this shift suggested Ms Coughlan was either party to the problems at Fás or she was incapable of doing anything about them.
“As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and as deputy leader of the Government, the Tánaiste presides over Fás. She either knew these things were going on or she was complicit in them. If that is the case it is a demonstration of utter incompetence,” he said.
The Tánaiste said she rejected the Fine Gael’s leader’s claims.
She said there were two Garda investigation ongoing into Fás and she had called the Comptroller and Auditor General to inquire as soon as she came into possession of an internal report on the agency’s operation.
And Ms Coughlan said the Cabinet had signed off on legislation to reform the structure of Fás this week and she hoped this could move through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible.
“I am adamant that the work of Fás, its board and the structures that will be set in place by this House very soon will be fit for purpose, very strategic and focused on the needs of the people here who are unemployed and in need of training,” she said.
Mr Kenny said the Tánaiste’s response was typical of a senior minister who had been in government for too long.
And he also lashed Ms Coughlan for signing off on a pension top-up arrangement for the former director general Rody Molly.
He said it was not just a reward, it was a “hefty reward” and asked why the gardaí had not investigated this arrangement.
Ms Coughlan said when signing off on Mr Molloy’s pension, reported to be worth an additional €1.4 million over the lifetime of his retirement, she was anxious to ensure his speedy departure and avoid a legal challenge.
Later this morning the outgoing chairman of Fás, Peter McLoone, and its newly appointed director general, Paul O’Toole, will appear before the Public Accounts Committee. The secretary general of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Sean O’Gorman will also answer questions.
They will be asked to respond to revelations that €600,000 was spent by the agency on adverts which were never aired, along with additional waste listed in the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Committee chairman Bernard Allen said people needed to know what had changed to ensure the problems did not repeat themselves.
“We are keen to find out how he plans to deal with some of the legacy issues which he must now face.
“The committee is also eager to hear from Fás’s outgoing chairman, Peter McLoone, who along with his board colleagues intends to resign. We would like his views on why the oversight role his board was charged with failed so dismally,” he said.
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