Local authority body paid €790,000 into Skill account


ALMOST €790,000 was paid into the bank account at the centre of the Skill training programme controversy by a local authority body funded by the Department of the Environment.

The Dáil’s public accounts committee yesterday heard invoices came from “Siptu head office”, while the trade union has been asked to provide documentation relating to €200,000 of the money.

The department’s secretary general Geraldine Tallon said the department had no knowledge the account had a “dubious status” and was not an official Siptu account for the 10 years over which the money was paid.

A total of €789,919.16 was put into the Siptu national health and local authority levy fund account by the Local Authority National Partnership Advisory Group (Lanpag), she confirmed.

Ms Tallon said the money was paid between 1999 and last year “on foot of Siptu invoices in respect of costs associated with training of Siptu trade union representatives” in areas relevant to the partnership process.

Questioned about the source of the invoices by committee chairman Bernard Allen of Fine Gael, Ms Tallon said: “The invoices came from Siptu. They came on headed paper from Sitpu head office.” Ms Tallon showed Mr Allen a document signed by Siptu official Matt Merrigan, which Mr Allen said outlined spending of €15,000 on carvery food, room hire, teas and coffees, and travel and mileage.

Referring to the €790,000, Ms Tallon said. “While I have under review copies of the Siptu invoices and back-up documentation in respect of the bulk of this money, Lanpag has written to Siptu in relation to provision of documentation in respect of €200,000. Further audit investigation may be necessary and, if so, will be undertaken in light of the outcome of these matters.” Mr Allen said it was absolutely necessary that a full audit be carried out. “Do you find it credible that all this money could be paid out and nobody asked the question where was it going, was it being audited?” he said.

Ms Tallon said Lanpag was established in 1999 under the terms of the national partnership agreement. She said income and expenditure by Lanpag had been covered in the annual audits by the Local Government Audit Service.

She said the department was not aware the account was an “unofficial Siptu account in the past 10 years”. New information had come to light earlier this year after the Comptroller and Auditor General investigated the matter.

“I had no knowledge it was an unofficial account or that this account might have dubious status,” she said. “We had no knowledge of this account as an account that may have no authority of any kind within Siptu.”

She said no foreign travel was undertaken as a result of the €790,000. A request for €100,000 on two separate occasions had come from Mr Merrigan, who was a representative on Lanpag, she said. She said between 1999 and 2009 her department provided annual funding “for partnership purposes” of €37.7 million.

“Over the same period funding of €790,000 was paid by Lanpag into the Siptu national health and local authority fund account on foot of Siptu invoices in respect of costs associated with training of Siptu trade union representatives.”