VEC gets legal advice over reports

County Cork VEC has voted to hire outside legal advisers to tell if any of its members or staff were defamed by news reports on waste and mismanagement in operations under its control.

The 24-person committee voted overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, to allow the executive of County Cork VEC’s [CCVEC] to source legal counsel on this basis. No budget has been published for these services and it is not known if the contract will be put out to tender.

The decision to bring in a lawyer was taken after a series of articles exposed problems with spending and money management at schools and youthreach facilities under the auspices of CCVEC.

Last Thursday, the VEC held a special private meeting ahead of its regular open committee event in Bantry. The special meeting discussed how members should handle sensitive information held by the CCVEC, after CCVEC was embarrassed by a string of revelations relating to its management of public funds.

These included an appearance by acting CEO Joan Russell at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to respond to a critical audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Ms Russell was quizzed about the loss of more than €161,000 on a failed computer learning project based at Glanmire Community College.

Two separate letters have since been received by the Public Accounts Committee with follow-up concerns about CCVEC.

CCVEC has declined every opportunity to clarify or comment on any of the issues raised in a series of reports in the Irish Examiner. In addition, it did not respond to a request for information on the latest vote to obtain legal advice.

The issues raised in previous news reports included:

* An estimated €200,000 may have been lost through overpayment of teachers, ineligibility of students and unsatisfactory procurement practices at Macroom Youthreach;

* Ballincollig Youthreach has had restrictions placed on its spending and accounting independence after concerns were raised by the internal audit unit;

* The VEC cannot exit a lease in Fermoy for a Youthreach building it has deemed unsafe because the landlords, the Diocese of Cloyne, are insisting on breakage penalties.

* CCVEC members had to forfeit a free lunch after they were called out for claiming an expense allowance for committee meetings;

* A €150,000-a-year sail-training programme was being funded despite its flagship vessel sitting on blocks in a west Cork boatyard for four years;

* A legal team was paid €29,040 to arrange a lease for CCVEC’s headquarters in Ballincollig without it negotiating or agreeing a fee for the service.

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