herald

Monday 11 December 2017

Gardai probe into public cash spent on booze and gifts

John McGuinness
John McGuinness

A garda investigation has been underway for almost a year into a Hepatitis C support group after public finance was spent on alcohol, dog kennels and lavish restaurants.

The probe involving Positive Action began late last year. The group is at the centre of a damning financial audit.

No arrests have been made but it is understood that one person has been quizzed by officers under caution.

Positive Action, which was set up in 1994 to support women who received the contaminated blood product Anti-D in maternity hospitals, failed to manage all of the €2.3m it received in funding from the HSE between 2009 and 2013.

A recent audit found the group used public funding on dog kennels, alcohol, expensive restaurant meals, beauty therapy and groceries.

The HSE audit found there were non-existent controls and significant extravagance as well as irregularities. It was difficult to find out where all of the money went because of reluctance to give full information.

Around 1,000 women were infected with Hepatitis C after receiving the blood product which was negligently contaminated by the former Blood Transfusion Service Board.

The virus attacks the liver and can cause death.

The organisation had its funding stopped by the HSE earlier this year and has since wound up with debts of around €107,000, much of which it owes to the HSE.

Travel

The audit revealed how the group paid out €250,000 in travel expenses. Restaurant dining in the United States included $66 filet mignon, $234 for four lobster meals, $463 on alcohol, $1,700 on tips, $135 on excess luggage, $235 on laptop cases, and $300 on taxis.

Travel costs over four years amounted to €104,000, according to the audit report obtained by RTE News. Most of the conferences were held for medical experts rather than non-medics.

In some cases the spouses of the directors accompanied them on the trips and stayed on in the locations for some time afterwards.

Other costs involved €19,540 on supermarket bills, gifts of €2,223, a bill for a courier to transport dry cleaning which came to €202 and dog kennels that cost €185. It found that €86,781 was spent on dining and purchases of groceries.

Positive Action was wound up in May after an Extraordinary General Meeting and placed in liquidation.

Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness said the committee will seek further information from the HSE and investigate the possibility of inviting the former directors of the group to sit before it.

hnews@herald.ie

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