Paul O'Toole: improved practices

TÁNAISTE Mary Coughlan will complete a clear-out of the Fás board this month when she handpicks 11 new members as part of a "root-and-branch" overhaul of the troubled semi-state body.

Over 250 hopefuls have sent in their CVs to apply for positions on the new slimmed-down body, which will replace the board that has been at the centre of long-running controversy over the waste of taxpayers' money.

The new board will be appointed by Coughlan with the assistance of the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of Education.

"The Labour Services (Amendment) Bill 2009, which I published in October, sends a clear signal to the public, and to Fás itself, of a root-and-branch cultural change in accountability and transparency," Coughlan told the Sunday Tribune.

The new, smaller board will be subject to new rules such as greater accountability to the taxpayer, obligatory disclosure of any conflict of interests by directors and staff, and protection for whistleblowers.

"These are robust and significant measures that will ensure this signal to the public becomes a reality in the organisation," Coughlan said. "Since becoming aware of the serious deficiencies and irregularities in financial controls at Fás, it has been my consistent goal to get to the bottom of what happened and to ensure it can never happen again.

"Changing the corporate governance structure and providing for greater accountability and transparency through enactment of this legislation will substantially build on the improved financial and governance practices now in place across the organisation under the guidance of its new director general, Paul O'Toole."

Coughlan stressed the importance of Fás in training and employment. "I want to restore public confidence in the ability of Fás to fully meet this challenging mandate in an efficient and effective manner," said Coughlan.

Coughlan's moves to overhaul Fás have been met with criticism. Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar said allowing Coughlan to "handpick" the board would politicise the board more than before and represented a "culture of cronyism and political appointments".

Labour's Róisín Shortall claimed that, by gaining control of appointments to the board, Coughlan was "perpetuating the cronyism that riddled Fás for many years".