Another money scandal, another big payout

 

ANALYSIS:THE IRONY of yesterday’s High Court agreement is that a scandal involving the lavish use of corporate funds has seen another chapter close with a financial settlement and the payment of further amounts from the corporate purse.

Greg Craig, the 48-year-old now former Fás employee, has worked in the public service for 26 years but is now out of a job at a time of high unemployment.

He has a sizeable financial package from Fás to help cushion the blow but, as he made clear yesterday to The Irish Times, it was the fear of huge legal costs that in the end prompted him to settle.

The two sides had been heading towards a week-long session in the High Court, or even longer, if the case had gone ahead.

That would have added a few more hundred thousand euro to the cost of dealing with the 2008 scandal, which has already probably cost the exchequer more than €2 million.

There was a possibility that Fás might lose the case and be landed with another enormous bill. If Craig lost, his family home might have been in the reckoning.

An anonymous letter prompted the internal audit service at Fás to conduct a review of certain expenditures in its corporate affairs division, then headed by Craig.

The report that emerged contained a wealth of detail about spending on advertising and the costs associated with job fairs here and abroad during the boom years, and allegations of serial breaches of procedure.

When the matter eventually arrived before the Dáil Committee on Public Accounts, the then director general of Fás, Rody Molloy, found it hard to defend his position, particularly after revelations about the use of first-class flights and expensive hotels in Florida. He resigned, though not before the then tánaiste, Mary Coughlan, agreed a €1 million-plus top-up for his pension fund.

During those hearings in 2008, Craig never appeared to give evidence. At first he was out sick and then, when he sought to return to work, he was famously suspended by Christy Cooney, the then assistant director general at Fás. Cooney, now president of the GAA, announced Craig’s suspension during a Public Accounts Committee sitting, and Craig heard about it on the news.

Craig later told The Irish Times he felt he was being “scapegoated” and that his superiors had consented to all the breaches of procedure he was guilty of. When he returned to work he discussed how he had been treated with the new director general, Paul O’Toole. It was agreed by both sides that consultants Mazars would look into the affair. Their report, which remains unpublished, supported a number of Craig’s complaints, and was accepted by O’Toole.

Meanwhile, Fás had appointed a consultant, Ignatius Lynam, to study the internal audit reports covering expenditures at the agency. As all this was happening, Fás was ramping up legal fees as it dealt with both the Mazars and Lynam processes.

Lynam recommended a number of Fás staff be censored, which they were, and that Craig’s employment be terminated. When Craig was told this, he initiated the High Court action.

He said yesterday he would like to see the Mazars report published, and its contents examined by the Public Accounts Committee. This story may have a few turns in it yet. Craig says that, for him, “it’s time to move on”.