Brendan Drumm: confrontation

The probe into the controversial €2.35m 'Skill' training slush fund was only ordered after the then HSE chief accidentally bumped into a senior Siptu official who was on a 'study trip' to Australia.

Brendan Drumm was attending a high-profile health seminar in Australia when he met Matt Merrigan and other union and HSE officials.

Drumm returned to Ireland and immediately confronted the HSE's HR director Sean McGrath and demanded to know what the party was doing in Australia and why the HSE was footing the bill.

McGrath said he knew nothing about the trips or the fund but promised to look into it. This sparked a probe that ended up in the public accounts committee last week and is still subject to further investigations by the HSE, Siptu and the gardaí.

Among the litany of unvouched expenses racked up by government and union officials unveiled by the HSE investigation are a taxi trip from St James's Hospital, Dublin to Tullamore and back via Drumcar in Co Louth costing €544 and over €35,000 spent on 3,000 bags with the 'Skill' logo which the HSE could not determine was "wholly" connected to the training programme.

The internal audit also revealed that the general manager of the training programme received €34,969 in expenses to cover mileage, lunches, dinners, Eircom home broadband, gifts and gratuities.

The €60m training project, which was started in 2004 with Department of Health funding sanctioned by the department of Finance, was overseen by a steering group composed of 15 government and union officials and also had a small project team which ran the programme on a day-to-day basis.

On top of 31 unvouched foreign trips involving government and union officials who were managing the programme, the HSE's audit also showed that €30,000 was spent on laptops for union members and €30,526 on a DVD that the HSE never saw. It was also revealed that the steering group had hired in consultancy services worth €429,000 without putting it out to tender and that a member of the steering group had received €73,000 of those consultancy fees again without putting it out to tender.