Voluntary FÁS worker Eddie Hoban has responded to allegations made against the organisation in Castlebar on RTÉ’s Prime Time Investigates programme on Tuesday night. The programme raised more questions than answers and left the people of Castlebar feeling confused, hurt, and angry about allegations made.
Mr Hoban, the man at the centre of the programme and a voluntary worker with FÁS in Castlebar for the past 13 years, spoke to the Mayo Advertiser yesterday (Thursday). Some of the main questions that arose out of the 17-minute piece was where was the €2.5 million spent between 2000 and 2005, whether Mr Hoban received funding for FÁS training which he wasn’t entitled to, and why there were so many FÁS schemes set up in Castlebar.
Mr Hoban, who has worked in a voluntary capacity for FÁS since he retired in 1996, said the programme was “very unbalanced”. “I gave an interview for an hour and a half and it was condensed down to two to three minutes. It couldn’t have a fair outcome,” he said.
In relation to the FÁS schemes which operated in Castlebar during that time Mr Hoban explained that the two initial schemes — Castlebar Care of the Aged Ltd and Castlebar Parish Community Need Ltd — which were both set up in 2000, were dissolved in 2003. The reason for this was because the Government felt that there were too many FÁS supervisors working on schemes across the country whose wages could pay for four to five workers, so it instructed that schemes be amalgamated. A generous redundancy package was awarded, but in Castlebar neither of the two supervisors wanted redundancy. Both men were let go and a new company set up called Castlebar Care for the Underprivileged Ltd. The post of supervisor was advertised and interviews were conducted. Martin Lyons was awarded the position, which he still holds today. This scheme is a community employment scheme which is funded by FÁS.
The second scheme which was referred to in the programme is the Castlebar Care for the Aged Social Economy Ltd. The supervisor on this scheme is TJ Kirrane and this scheme, which is a social economy scheme funded by Pobal and not FÁS, was set up in 2001. It was initially funded by FÁS but in 2006 Pobal took over the funding of SE schemes. These are the two schemes which are currently operational in Castlebar.
On the FÁS scheme there are currently 22 workers and on the Pobal scheme, which carries out a lot of maintenance for the elderly, there are nine workers.
Mr Hoban set the record straight on the €350 funding which he was accused of obtaining inappropriately for training. In the FÁS guidelines, which Mr Hoban assisted in writing, it was a guideline and not a rule that FÁS members should not receive funding for training. At this time Mr Hoban had worked for FÁS for 18 years in Cork and Castlebar, and since 1996 continued to work every day in a voluntary capacity. He was running a citizen’s information service at the social services centre in Castlebar but the Government decided to set up formal citizen information centres.
However in the interim Mr Hoban continued to provide the service voluntarily and received €350 funding for a day’s training. This was the only funding he received from FÁS during his 13 years working in a voluntary capacity.
Mr Hoban stated: “Since then FÁS has established a national database of FÁS approved trainers, most of whom are FETAC accredited. I am not on this database, and therefore am quite sure that if I were to ask FÁS today to approve payment for training, I would be refused.”
Meals on wheels
During the course of Prime Time’s programme much time was given to the fact that the Castlebar schemes used meals on wheels as a source of funding on application forms.
Mr Hoban explained that meals on wheels is not just peeling potatoes and extends to maintenance of the social services building which meals on wheels operates from. He claimed that on October 12 2004 the executive of social services had a meeting which discussed staffing issues. Arising from discussions they said they no longer required FÁS assistance and wanted to secure permanent staff of their own accord, and in a letter to FÁS they thanked them for their assistance. The letter was received by FÁS on October 13 and FÁS workers were told to leave social services that day. The staff were re-allocated to work in other organisations listed on their application. Since then meals on wheels has not been cited on any funding application form for Castlebar FÁS schemes.
Mr Hoban was asked finally where the €2.5 million FÁS funding was spent between 2000 and 2005. “Ninety three per cent of all FÁS funding goes to pay worker’s wages. We are left with seven per cent,” he outlined. “That money goes towards heating and lighting, a telephone, postage, safety equipment, and lawnmowers.” Organisations which are supported by FÁS in Castlebar include the Family Resource Centre, Alzheimer’s home, St Catherine’s pre-school for Travellers, and the Traveller Homework Club. Until 2004 the Social Services Centre, commonly known as Meals on Wheels, was also part of this list. “When we say that our CE scheme provides support to various voluntary organisations in Castlebar, we mean that we provide those organisations with part-time staff. We do not provide any direct financial support whatsoever,” Mr Hoban explained. According to Mr Hoban every cent of their funding is accounted for with receipts provided to their accountants who audit the company annually.
To date eight investigations have been carried out into the workings of FÁS in Castlebar. Two were conducted by FÁS, one by the Archbishop of Tuam, one by Pobal, one by the Department of Family and Community Affairs, one by the Public Accounts Committee, one by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the final one by Prime Time. None of the investigations could find any wrongdoing. Now the chairman of the Social Services Centre is calling for an independent investigation outside of FÁS.
“I’m now in my 79th year and having worked for 13 years for nothing in Castlebar all I have is dirt thrown at me to pass onto my family,” concluded Mr Hoban.