Sunday 17 December 2017

Dan White: FAS must be well and truly buried

In the end the biggest surprise was that FAS lasted as long as it did. After the fallout from former director general Rody Molloy's disastrous radio interview, which led to his enforced resignation two years ago, the agency has been the bureaucratic equivalent of a dead man walking.

Molloy's departure was accompanied by revelations of lavish spending on first-class air travel and foreign hotels, which turned the agency into a huge embarrassment for its political and bureaucratic masters.

They wanted FAS, or rather the FAS name, gone as soon as possible.

Now Tanaiste Mary Coughlan is proposing that FAS be replaced by a "new" training agency in the New Year. While we are willing to be pleasantly surprised, it is difficult not to be cynical about yesterday's announcement. Yes, a replacement for FAS was long overdue, but we need a genuinely new agency rather than a FAS Mark II.

Will we get a genuinely new agency? Don't hold your breath. Far more likely is that we will end up with FAS under another name.

After all, this is what we got in the late Eighties, when two previous failed state training organisations, ANCO and the National Manpower Commission, were merged to form FAS.

When the scandalous affairs of the organisation were finally exposed, Molloy and a number of other FAS officials were hung out to dry. While it was right and proper that Molloy was held accountable for the failings of the organisation he was supposed to be in charge of, the problems at FAS went much deeper than his alleged shortcomings.

Even yet, after all that we have learned, no one is asking the key question: what is FAS for?

By the late 1990s, as Ireland reached full employment, it was obvious that FAS, and its €1bn budget, was no longer required. While there might still have been a requirement for a much smaller, organisation focused on training and retraining people already in work, the entire FAS structure needed to be dismantled.

Unfortunately FAS, which was founded during Bertie Ahern's tenure as Minister for Labour, had by then become an untouchable monument to social partnership. Instead the organisation was pretty much left to its own devices.

This combination of an organisation whose original mission had come to an end, seeking to reinvent itself with virtually no political or bureaucratic supervision while still retaining its massive budget, was a recipe for disaster. And so it proved to be. As the Celtic Tiger roared seemingly ever on, FAS splurged taxpayers' euros, seeking to justify its existence on ever more hare-brained schemes.

Now, with the Government seeking to save every euro, the renamed FAS must be subject to the sort of scrutiny it should have received over a decade ago.

This time around there can be no repeat of a cosy cartel between employers' organisation IBEC and the trade unions. If we don't learn from the failings of the past, then we will be condemned to repeat them.

Related Content

Promoted articles

Entertainment News