Florida trip: Mary Harney with her husband Brian Geoghegan, former chairman of Fás

FÁS has been rocked by a fresh scandal involving another senior figure in its corporate affairs section, which senior sources at the troubled agency privately concede is "far more serious" than anything that has emerged to date.

The Sunday Tribune can reveal gardaí have been called in to investigate the matter which is said to involve a "significant amount" of money.

The individual at the centre of the investigation is currently on sick leave, having been hospitalised after the scandal was unearthed. It is alleged that, even though he was a full-time salaried employee of Fás, he was also invoicing the agency for services rendered.

While the individual was working in the same section as Greg Craig, the executive suspended last week on full pay, it is understood the matter is wholly unconnected to Craig.

Meanwhile it has emerged the week-long Fás Florida trip undertaken by then Tánaiste Mary Harney, her husband Brian Geoghegan, former Fás director general Rody Molloy, his wife and others may have cost as much as €150,000 when all bills are taken into account.

Harney, Geoghegan and their entourage ran up a bill of $4,500 at a luxury hotel.
On one night their dinner bill came to
$994 with a single drinks tab of $300, according to documents seen by the
Sunday Tribune.

Harney also travelled on a separate trip to South Africa at the expense of Fás, it emerged yesterday. She visited both Johannesburg and Cape Town as part of a major international jobs fair to address worker shortages in Ireland.

The total cost of the visit, which included scheduled flights in the region of €5,000 each, was estimated at €100,000.

A source close to Harney said: "It appears there is an attempt to paint a picture of the Tánaiste travelling on junkets to the four corners of the globe. She travelled in her capacity as minister for enterprise to this massive jobs fair where hundreds of Irish companies were seeking employees. This was a very significant event and there were traffic jams in Cape Town on the day of it such was the interest. Half a dozen journalists also travelled at the taxpayer's expense."

When retired astronaut Eileen Collins visited Ireland in 2006 travel costs to Fás amounted to €1,000 per day, according to an invoice from a chauffer company. On one journey, director of corporate affairs, Greg Craig, was driven from his home in Terenure, Dublin to Kildare Street, via St Joseph's School at a cost of €240, according to an invoice.

In a separate development, it has emerged that Craig is to be the subject of another investigation. A previous audit, which sparked the current controversy, examined the activities in the public affairs section between 2001 and 2005. The new probe will deal with "other issues" that took place after 2005.

The board of Fás has got legal advice that it risks being sued if it discloses a series of documents, including details of disciplinary action taken against Craig, and, as directors, they have a duty not to expose Fás to such a risk.

However, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has the power to compel Fás to release the documents. Such an action would see the PAC shoulder any legal risk. Sources also say that, before the original internal audit at the agency, the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General was informed of serious problems, in two "diplomatically couched, but clear" letters from a senior executive at Fás.