How Fás became a byword for wasteful public spending

Elite travel, rounds of golf and a beauty salon, but agency nadir was Rody Molloy interview

The use of Fás’s credit card to pay over $900 for a three-ball golf match at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando was defended as “developing relationships”. Photograph: Getty Images

The use of Fás’s credit card to pay over $900 for a three-ball golf match at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando was defended as “developing relationships”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

If there was a moment which crystallised public outrage over State officials’ sense of entitlement and disregard for taxpayers’ money, it came on the morning of November 24th, 2008.

As the bottom fell out of the economy and the government scrambled to cut public spending, the director general of Fás took to the national airwaves.

Over previous days, alarming reports over wasteful expenditure at the national training agency filtered through the media.

Among the revelations were that Fás executives had spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money on lavish expenditure such as first-class air tickets, rounds of golf, pay-per-view movies and spouses’ travel.

Senior officials had brought their wives on trips to far-flung locations including Boston, Washington, New York, Orlando, Tokyo, Hawaii and San Francisco.

Shortly after 10am on November 24th, 2008, then Fás director general Rody Molloy defended the organisation’s spending in a radio interview with Pat Kenny on RTÉ.

On the issue of a company credit card being used to cover a $410 bill at a beauty and nail salon on West Cocoa Beach, Florida, he insisted that “in terms of the total package, is very, very small”.

The use of Fás’s credit card to pay more than $900 for a three-ball golf match at the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando was defended on the basis of “developing relationships”.

Spouses’ travel

He said officials had traded down their entitlement to first-class tickets for business-class ones so they could bring their spouses.

The flights were not “hellishly expensive” and were appropriate due to “the kind of activities that were involved”, which included a dinner with then president of Ireland Mary McAleese.

The outcry was swift, and Mr Molloy’s downfall came fast.

The following evening, shortly before 11pm, the government announced his resignation as director general of Fás.

It was just the beginning of the controversy.

Then Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the rest of the board’s situation was “untenable” and resignations followed.

It later emerged that the then tánaiste Mary Coughlan had awarded Mr Molloy a package which amounted to a €1 million “golden handshake”.

A subsequent investigation by the Public Accounts Committee into the scale of wasteful spending at the organisation was scathing.

It described as “unorthodox” the procurement practices for its €35 million advertising budget between 2003 and 2007, and concluded that a short-lived jobs website – run by a firm formed 10 days before the contract was awarded – ended up costing the taxpayer at least €1.2 million.

Corporate failures

A “culture of apathy”, said then chair of the Public Accounts Committee Bernard Allen, meant significant sums of taxpayers’ money was wasted.

“There are a lot of lessons that apply not only to Fás, but to the wider public service arising from what is covered in the report,” Mr Allen said at the time.

Mr Molloy, who initially refused to be questioned by the committee, was more contrite during his appearance before it.

He said he knew his position at Fás was untenable after his “ill-judged” radio interview.

The following days were “traumatic” and his home was “besieged” by some elements of the media.

While he accepted he made mistakes along the way and that much of his foreign travel was “inappropriate”, he remained proud of his legacy.

“I was proud to lead Fás for eight years,” Mr Molloy told the committee. “I never ceased to be amazed at the dedication and commitment of the staff of Fás to deliver important services to the community they tried to serve. I believe I made a contribution to continuously improving that service.”

History, however, is unlikely to be so kind. Fás – which became a byword for wasteful expenditure and entitlement – ended up being razed out of existence.

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