| 13.5°C Dublin

Andrew Lynch: The FAS affair still stinks - why didn't Coughlan just sack waster Molloy?

So now we know. A damning report from the State's financial watchdog has laid bare the scandal at FAS in all its ugly detail, leaving Mary Coughlan with some serious questions to answer.

The Tanaiste would clearly like us to forget about it as quickly as possible -- but until she explains why the man in charge was given a golden handshake of almost €1m more than was strictly necessary, her role in the whole affair will continue to dog her reputation.

Although it was clear from the start that the Comptroller and Auditor General's findings would not make for pretty reading, some of the details revealed are truly shocking.

At a time when we effectively had full employment, the country's chief training agency kept itself busy by blowing vast amounts of money on air travel, GAA matches and big-name concerts.

When you add in the "large amounts of alcohol" that frequently showed up on their lunch bills, it's not clear why executives spent so much on tickets to see U2 or Robbie Williams -- working for FAS was clearly the best gig in town.

If reckless spending was the only problem here, we might be able to accept Coughlan's advice to chalk the whole thing up to experience and move on. Unfortunately, the problem goes far deeper than that.

An air of mystery still surrounds the severance deal that the Tanaiste sanctioned to secure the resignation of ex-director general Rody Molloy, the only thing we now know for sure being that it cost the taxpayer way in excess of what it should have.

Molloy quit in November 2008 following an excruciating appearance on RTE's Pat Kenny show, when he made a complete fool of himself as he tried to explain away the wasteful spending that had taken place on his watch.

This included visits to Florida nail bars, €600,000 on a television ad that never aired and €9,200 on a car that apparently vanished into thin air.

At the time, many people's natural instinct was to give the man a break.

While his actions were indefensible, at least he had done the decent thing by falling on his sword almost immediately.

Now it turns out that we didn't know the half of it. The new report reveals that Molloy left with a retirement package worth €3.8m over 30 years, some €892,000 more than what would be given to a comparable public servant with the same level of experience.

Sack

If this is what a State executive gets for screwing up as spectacularly as Rody did, the taxpayer who foots the bill might be tempted to ask what the Government would pay someone who actually did a good job? The questions for Mary Coughlan are exactly the same as they were a year ago.

Did Molloy threaten to take her to court if he wasn't given such a massive pay-off? If so, why didn't she seek immediate legal advice from the Attorney General who was just a phone call away and is employed precisely for such emergencies?

Above all, at a time when so many people who need FAS's services have been fired through no fault of their own, why not simply sack a man who had presided over some of the most spectacular squandering of public money in the history of the State?

Since there seems to be little chance of Molloy handing the money back, Coughlan is the only person who can clarify these issues.

To be fair to her, most of the waste took place long before she took over at the Department of Enterprise in 2008. She has at least put an entirely new board in place as well as new guidelines that should prevent anything similar ever happening again.

The fact remains that until she explains her actions surrounding Molloy's departure, it will look as if FAS is once again being protected from public scrutiny thanks to its cosy relationship with the political establishment.

As a keen Gaeilgoir, Mary Coughlan will know that FAS is the Irish for grow.

This whole sorry business has clearly ballooned into a scandal of epic proportions -- and the people responsible need to be put on a strict diet.