Údarás na Gaeltachta refutes the serious, damaging and sensationalised allegations made in the media in recent days regarding Údarás expenditure on overseas travel.
An tÚdarás wishes to state categorically that there is no question of any instance of malpractice being undertaken by either its Executives or Board members in relation to costs. We take issue with the references and comparisons made to instances of misuse of public funds by another public organisation in articles published in the media in relation to this matter, some going back to a year ago which were clarified and publicly corrected in the media, and by the media themselves in some instances.
We would again like to reiterate that Údarás na Gaeltachta is an open, transparent organisation that complies fully with all Department of Finance guidelines. Údarás retains a professional and independent firm of accountants to carry out its internal audit functions. The Comptroller and Auditor General audits the annual financial statements of the organisation and reports thereon once a year to the Houses of the Oireachtas. These audits show that Údarás abides by best practice and departmental guidelines.
Údarás na Gaeltachta expenditure on travel fully complies with Department of Finance guidelines. Longhaul flights to the USA and non-European destinations were and are made in accordance with those guidelines regarding foreign travel. European shorthaul flights are booked economy or budget according to the same guidelines. All overseas trips are assessed with regard to benefits to the Údarás’ remit and approved beforehand at the most senior level. It is the policy of Údarás na Gaeltachta to reimburse only the costs necessarily incurred to perform the purpose of the business of the travel, as authorised. This never includes the costs of other members of family. Údarás na Gaeltachta keeps foreign travel to the minimum necessary to fulfil its remit regarding the needs of potential overseas investors and existing clients.
In its efforts to attract foreign direct investment to Gaeltacht areas, Údarás depends to a large extent on business contacts established through the network of IDA offices in the USA and elsewhere. The IDA is the national agency with responsibility for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Údarás is responsible for the attraction of investment to the Gaeltacht, which includes FDI. Údarás does not have an overseas presence. Some of its client companies are headquartered overseas and others have customers, suppliers and investors overseas. Results from the Annual Business Survey of Economic Impact 2008 (ABSEI) carried out in 2009 by Forfás in Gaeltacht companies, which include approximately 79% of Údarás supported employment, indicates that total sales in client companies amounted to €834m, of which 47.6% was in exports. It is therefore imperative that Údarás continues its working relationship with its client-base overseas and with the IDA staff, in their network of offices, in order to maintain contacts and attract overseas investment.
In relation to reference made to a trip to Shanghai, China, this trip was deemed necessary to assess a business project, which was subsequently approved by the Údarás Bord. The project, with a projected employment of 18, has since located in the Connemara Gaeltacht. It was considered an efficient use of taxpayers money to also meet and liaise with IDA and Enterprise Ireland while the Údarás Executives were in Shanghai. All costs, including flights, were fully in line with Department of Finance guidelines regarding longhaul flights.
There were also references made to seven trips to Halifax. There were only four, and in this instance Údarás were actively seeking technology, partnership and investment for a wholly-owned subsidiary based in Conamara in order to secure its future viability. Údarás had been involved in negotiations with a number of companies, including one in Halifax.
In reference to trips made to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, both these overnight stops were part of one business trip that involved a senior Údarás Executive meeting with prospective clients in the media sector in order to identify opportunities and secure investment for a sector that Údarás continues to develop in the Gaeltacht (at the North American Broadcasting Trade Show in Las Vegas, the largest business trade fair in the US, and with the Irish Film Commissioner in Los Angeles). It was never claimed that the meetings in Los Angeles and Las Vegas involved the IDA and we have already placed it on the public record that no receipts were missing, as claimed.
We welcome the opportunity to provide all of the details to the Secretary General of the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs to enable them to report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as requested. We would like to point out that misinformation on travel by Údarás Executives, similar to that quoted from a recognised newspaper article by the Chairman of the PAC as being in the public arena, was published in news papers close to a year ago and fully dealt with at the time. Clarification and corrections were published afterwards.