Retirement not due to conflicts inquiry, says education board chair

Seán Ashe of Kildare and Wicklow ETC refuses to answer questions on inquiry at PAC

Seán Ashe, chief executive of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB), appeared before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday

Seán Ashe, chief executive of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB), appeared before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday

 

The chief executive of an education board which is being investigated following concerns over conflicts of interest has denied he is taking early retirement because of the inquiry.

Seán Ashe, chief executive of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (ETB), appeared before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday to discuss the organisation’s accounts.

However, much of the questioning centred on the investigation opened last month by the Department of Education following an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) into the board’s accounts.

The C&AG had flagged issues relating to the delivery of building projects, rental properties and the use of a pool of vehicles.

Two days after the investigation was announced, Mr Ashe told fellow board members he was retiring at the end of this year. The investigation is due to be completed by March.

‘Personal reasons’

In response to questioning from Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Ashe said the timing of his retirement was completely coincidental and he was stepping down “for personal reasons.”

The hearing became increasingly heated when Mr Ashe refused to answer further questions about alleged financial irregularity on the basis that it was subject of an ongoing investigation.

Several members of the committee told him the matter was not before a court and that therefore Mr Ashe could answer questions if he wanted.

Mr Ashe said the person leading the investigation, former president of Sligo Institute of Technology Richard Thorn, had expressed “concern” about him answering questions before the PAC.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said it was outrageous that Mr Thorn was seeking to interfere with the work of the committee. He said any future report from Mr Thorn “is now worthless.” Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming, the committee chairman, said this was not the view of the entire committee.