Board members resign at education body under investigation

Chair and vice-chair of Kildare Wicklow Education and Training Board stand down

The chair and vice chair of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board which is at  the centre of an investigation into spending and potential conflicts of interest have resigned.

The chair and vice chair of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board which is at the centre of an investigation into spending and potential conflicts of interest have resigned.

 

The chair and vice chair of an education board at the centre of an investigation into spending and potential conflicts of interest have resigned.

An audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) into accounts for Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB) flagged a series of issues relating to the delivery of building projects, rental properties and the use of a pool of vehicles.

An investigator appointed by the Department of Education is currently examine these matters and is due to issue a report early next year.

The chair of the board Cllr Jim Ruttle (Independent) has now emailed a statement to colleagues in which he said he had no involvement with the issues under investigation which pre-dated his role as chairman, which he was elected to in October 2016.

The vice-chair Cllr Brendan Weld (Fine Gael) also announced his resignation and expressed his “regret and shock” at learning of the circumstances under investigation.

KWETB’s chief executive Sean Ashe surprised colleagues shortly after the investigation was announced in October when he said he plans to retire at the end of this year.

Neither Mr Ashe nor the KWETB has commented beyond stating that they are co-operated fully with the C&AG and the department investigation.

The board, which has a turnover of €116 million, is responsible for running further education and training courses in both Co Kildare and Co Wicklow, as well as a large number of primary and secondary schools.

In his statement, Cllr Ruttle criticised the manner in which he was treated by members of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week, after he told them it would not be possible to answer questions over spending issues as they were under investigation.

“Despite all of this some members of the committee then effectively ‘thrashed’ the ministerial investigation and in one case a member indicated that it would in effect be worthless,” he wrote in his statement.

“I find this to be an outrageous development considering that the final report will inevitably be coming before PAC when some members have already queried the appointment of its author and the report’s very existence.”

He said dealing with the matters has taken a “huge amount of my time” and that he did not have access to resources, such as secretarial services, which made this situation “almost impossible”.

Cllr Ruttle added: “While all of this was going on in the course of the last few months I have also had major surgery which took a heavy toll.”

Cllr Weld said he was fully committed to assisting with the investigation and added that his “knowledge of any circumstances currently under review is very limited”.

Cllr Fiona McLoughlin-Healy (Fine Gael), another board member, had previously called on both to consider their position. This was after she had previously criticised both board members at a public meeting of the board for not providing access to legal advice made available to the chair and the vice-chair for and on behalf of the board. She also claimed at the meeting board members were being kept in the dark over details of the board’s interactions with the Department’s investigation.

Wicklow-based Social Democrat councillor Jennifer Whitmore has also called for the investigation to be fast-tracked due to the retirement of the board’s chief executive, Sean Ashe, at the end of this year.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has appointed former president of the Institute of Technology, Sligo, Richard Thorn to examine the board’s functions in relation to “public procurement, usage and disposal of assets and propriety matters”.