Employer group asks members to resign from ETB boards over governance concerns

Department refers concerns over spending at Kildare and Wicklow ETB to Garda Síochána

Ciaran Murtagh, chair of Isme, the organisation representing small and medium businesses, who wrote to Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ciaran Murtagh, chair of Isme, the organisation representing small and medium businesses, who wrote to Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

An employer’s group has asked all of its members to resign from State-run Education and Training Boards (ETB) following concern over corporate governance practices.

The move has been sparked by investigations in Kildare and Wicklow ETB, which is at the centre of allegations of misspending and potential conflicts of interest.

Isme, the organisation representing small and medium businesses, is one of number of specified organisations from which nominees are sought for board memberships of ETBs across the State.

It has written to the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, stating that it has requested its board members to tender their resignations.

It also says it will withhold nominations to fill any vacancies in the ETB sector until the completion of a comprehensive review of corporate governance practices and procurement across the network.

“As unpaid, pro-bono directors, it is unfair of Isme to expect them to discharge their duties while a question exists about governance practices anywhere in the ETB network, which would expose them to reputational damage,” Isme’s chair, Ciaran Murtagh, wrote in a letter to Mr Bruton last month.

In a statement, the Department of Education said an independent investigation into the performance of Kildare and Wicklow ETB in relation to public procurement, usage and disposal of assets and propriety matters has been completed.

Clarifications

However, the author – Richard Thorn, president emeritus of Sligo Institute of Technology – is updating it to include some clarifications sought by the department.

“The matters investigated are of serious concern and the department has referred them to An Garda Síochána, ” a spokeswoman for the department said.

“The department is also considering legal advice. Therefore comment on the specific issues raised would not be appropriate at this time.”

Correspondence between the department and the Kildare and Wicklow ETB – seen by The Irish Times – details a range of questions ranging from spending on upmarket hotels to whether family ties were properly disclosed in contracts awarded to companies.

The ETB, which has a budget of €160 million, is responsible for running a number of primary, secondary and further education courses in the region. It employs about 2,500 people.

The allegations relate to a period when Seán Ashe was chief executive of the board. He resigned last December.

He declined to comment when contacted on Thursday on the basis that he was precluded from doing so because Mr Thorn’s investigation was ongoing.

The departments correspondence raises questions over the use of luxury hotels for staff meetings.

Family connections

It also raised questions over Mr Ashe’s family connections with a company, Postbrook. This firm was allowed to rent a premises owned by the board at a reduced rate. However, no rent was collected by the board.

In correspondence, Mr Ashe insisted there was no conflict of interest, though he accepted there could be a perceived one.

Local councillor and Kildare and Wicklow ETB board member Fiona McLoughlin Healy, meanwhile, has raised concern over the fact that taxpayers are facing a bill of €82,000 for legal fees relating to the investigation.

She said by time the board was made aware there was an investigation pending or that legal advice was even necessary, almost €40,000 was due in legal fees.