Representatives of FAS and the Tipperary Hostel Company Ltd may be called before the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee to assist its investigation into the operation of the Tipperary Hostel project and why it was forced to close unfinished in 2010 under a cloud of controversy.
Public Accounts Committee Chairman John McGuinness TD confirmed that at the end of January the Committee will be turning its attention again to the failed project to transform Tipperary Town’s former workhouse building into a tourist hostel.
And he confirmed that as part of the public spending watchdog’s probe, representatives of the Tipperary Hostel Ltd. development company, the former FAS agency, the local authority and other bodies connected to the project may be called before the committee to answer questions.
Mr McGuinness said the report on the internal audit FAS conducted into the operation of the FAS Jobs Initiative Scheme at the Tipperary Hostel Project has been sent to the Gardai, who are conducting an investigation into alleged financial irregularities at the Project.
PAC is seeking that FAS report for its own probe.
Mr McGuinnness also revealed that PAC was contacting the Minister for Environment, Community & Local Government Phil Hogan to request that ownership of the project be transferred to another body and that the tourist hostel would be completed with the support of public money.
“We are anxious that the €4m that has been invested already in the project won’t be lost to the tax payer. All they (the Department) can do is instruct that some new management is put in place and that further Government spending completes the project.
Mr McGuinness made his comments in the wake of a RTE Prime Time report on the Tipperary Hostel Project broadcast last week.
The report, which Mr McGuinness contributed to, highlighted how the hostel remains unfinished despite the investment of about €4m over a period of nine years.
It detailed how workers on the Jobs Initiative Scheme, whose wages were paid by FAS, were diverted to work on about 62 other community projects ranging from GAA and tennis clubs to Tipperary Mid-West Radio during this nine year period. They also worked on improvements to about 20 homes.
The report also dealt with the Garda investigation into alleged financial irregularities at the project.
Mr McGuinness told Prime Time it was clear there was insufficient oversight of the project by FAS, the Department responsible and the agencies that funded the project. And now they were left with a building no-one was taking charge of.
SOLAS, which has replaced FAS, said it was not in a position to comment on specifics regarding the Tipperary Hostel Project as there is an on-going Garda investigation into issues relating to it.
SOLAS said the FAS internal audit report won’t be made public until the Garda investigation is complete.
In relation to the diversion of JIS workers to projects outside the Tipperary Hostel, SOLAS said it would have been normal for applications for Job Initiative funding from companies and organisations to include a range of projects in order to provide on-going work for participants.
And in relation to the improvements works conducted on houses, the statement said a community group might work in tandem with other local organisiation such as the HSE on works for disadvantaged groups like the elderly in the community.