EC withdraws fund over Fás audits


The director of the European Commission in Dublin has said European funding for jobs training  has de facto been withdrawn for Ireland because of problems encountered with audit trails for monies given to Fás.

Martin Territt said serious questions had been raised by audits conducted by the commission and that the Irish authorities knew that these questions would have to be answered.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said the audits of training programmes contracted out to the private sector by Fás had discovered gaps in the required paperwork and nothing had as yet been found to be wrong.

He said the commission had allocated a total of €618 million under the current and previous multi-year social funds programme. If the Irish authorities were not able to satisfactorily answer the questions that had been raised, then other issues arose, such as the recovering of some of the European funding.

The audits were conducted in October/November 2009 and March 2010 and no funding had been requested by the Irish authorities since November. The two issues were “clearly linked”, Mr Territt said.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation Batt O'Keeffe said this morning there was “nothing unusual” in the fact EC training funds have not been drawn down since last year for Fás.

Mr O'Keeffe said he expected the Department of Education and Skills to make application for funding in the usual way.

“There was certainly no request for money to be returned - my understanding is, and I haven't had much time on this, is that since 2006 some issue did arise. That issue has been investigated. I understand that it has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties and there is no question, as I understand it, of any money being returned. In the normal way, we will continue to draw down those funds as required."

Earlier, Labour’s education spokesman Ruairí Quinn said Fás should be closed down as its “credibility” has been destroyed.

Mr Quinn told RTÉ Radio the fund for education and training “has to be fundamentally reviewed” as the number of people in the labour force with Leaving Certificates is now “dramatically different” to when the agency's predecessor AnCo was established in 1967.

Mr Quinn said that - in his personal view - it is time for a “complete reconstruction" of Fás.

“The entire retraining budget should be put into the institutes of technology infrastructure because the vast cohort of young people who are going to turn this economy around have Leaving Certificate,” he said.

“They want up-skilling and training within the Fetac system of awards and they don’t need half-baked consultants coming in running half-baked courses in hotel rooms around the country."

He said people in the labour market who have become redundant want to go back to universities or institutes of technology for retraining.

Fine Gael’s Bernard Allen described parts of Fás as being “a shambles”. He said as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee he was not in a position to comment on Government policy but as a TD he believes there is “need for major reform”.

“Whether they should be closed down or not…I think energy should be focused on dealing with unemployed people rather than restructure,” he added.