radon protection of buildings

No Budgetary Control at FÁS – What About Technical Controls ?

2009-09-12:  Headlines in Ireland’s News Media, very recently, have concerned a lack of proper budgetary control … make that ‘any’ budgetary control … in FÁS (Foras Áiseanna Saothair) – the Irish Training & Employment Authority.

FÁS operates under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and has functions in relation to the training of people with disabilities and the unemployed, the up-skilling of the employed and the administration of apprenticeships.

Special Report No.66 (dated 12th June 2009), from the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General in Ireland, examined:

  • advertising and promotional expenditure by FÁS in the period 2002-2008 ;
  • budgetary control over FÁS’s advertising and promotional expenditure ;
  • general strategy under which advertising and promotional expenditure was spent in FÁS ;
  • the extent to which the effectiveness of this expenditure was evaluated ;
  • procurement of advertising and related services in FÁS.

Overall Examination Findings

Advertising, which accounted for almost half of the overall promotion expenditure by FÁS, is the largest in the non-commercial State sector.  The examination found that

  • Advertising and promotional activities lacked strategic direction insofar as a marketing and communications strategy had not been developed by FÁS despite longstanding commitments to do so.
  • There was a substantial and prolonged breakdown in budgetary control in the area of promotional expenditure in the period under review with expenditure exceeding budgets by 38%.  This lack of control was particularly evident in the area of general advertising where expenditure exceeded budgets by 66% over the seven-year period.
  • Much of the advertising was ineffective in increasing an awareness of the services provided by FÁS.
  • There was nugatory expenditure of €622,000 as a result of a series of transactions for which there was no evidence of goods or services having been provided.
  • There was also considerable non-effective expenditure including over €600,000 spent on producing TV advertisements that were not broadcast and payment of €9,200 for a car that was not delivered.
  • The rates FÁS paid for advertising were reasonably in line with industry norms.

Internal financial control was insufficient to ensure that all commitments were recorded and captured, and that procurement was conducted in accordance with public service norms and within expenditure authorisation limits.  In particular, the examination found that 

  • Commitment controls did not function when agents were used to effect transactions.  Procurement of certain goods and services by Corporate Affairs through contracted agencies meant that the Finance section only became aware of certain commitments when invoices were presented for payment.
  • FÁS was exposed to probity risks through a failure to meet public sector procurement requirements.  Exposures arose from the purchase from contracted agencies of goods and services that were not contemplated within the scope of their contracts and the potential consequences of FÁS playing a role in the selection of third parties by the agencies to provide services.
  • Expenditure authorisation limits were circumvented through the splitting of payment claims into a series of invoices.
  • There was a lack of clear accounting trails in regard to proceeds from the sale of exhibition space.


Why has it taken so long for this Report to enter the public domain ?

And … if there was no proper/any budgetary control in FÁS … is it reasonable to surmise that there were no proper/any technical controls either ?

  • In reality … how well trained were apprentices ?   When the construction industry started to go ‘wallop’ in Ireland, and our economy then nose dived into the ground, what happened to those apprentices … and where are they now ?
  • How well trained were people with disabilities ?   Did they get a fair deal ?   What was the quality of their employment, after the FÁS training ?   Are they still employed ?
  • How good/effective were FÁS’s training courses dealing with, e.g. ‘safety on construction sites’, or ‘radon protection of buildings’, etc ?   Was it a case of jobs for the ‘boys’ ?




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‘Feeling’ the Violent Earthquake in Abruzzo, Italy ?!?

2009-04-13:  Exactly a week ago … in the early hours of Monday morning (03:32 hrs local time), 6th April 2009, a violent earthquake hit the central Italian Region of Abruzzo.  The quake had a ‘magnitude’ of 6.3 on the Richter Scale … a scale developed by Charles Richter (1900-1985) during the last century, in collaboration with Beno Gutenberg (1889-1960).


The high numbers of fatalities and people injured continue, even at this time of writing … seven days later, to rise and rise.  Approaching 60,000 people have been left homeless.  It will take many, many years to restore buildings … and much longer than that to restore the delicate social fabric of local communities.


It is a remarkable joy to experience the culture, and live among the people of one such small community in the centre of Italy … Amandola (≈ 4,500 inhabitants), which is a typical hilltop town located approximately 70 Km north of L’Aquila (≈ 67,000 inhabitants), capital of the Abruzzo Region.


Colour photograph showing the view, taken just a few hours after the Abruzzo Earthquake, looking towards L'Aquila over the snow-capped Sibillini Mountains. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh from within the historical centre of Amandola, 70 Km away. 2009-04-06.
Colour photograph showing the view, taken just a few hours after the Abruzzo Earthquake, looking towards L’Aquila over the snow-capped Sibillini Mountains. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh from within the historical centre of Amandola, 70 Km away. 2009-04-06.

Earthquakes between 6.1 and 6.9 on the Richter Scale regularly cause damage in areas up to 100 Kilometres away from the ‘epicentre’ … that point on the earth’s surface located vertically above the place deep within the Earth where the quake originated.


To put local news reports into some context … accurate measurement of dramatically increased levels of natural radon activity in soils, allied with a good understanding of local geology and seismology, can be an important, although not 100% reliable, indicator of what is happening deep underground.  Unfortunately, and unlike in Ireland, radon protection of buildings is not taken seriously in Italy … so, not much attention would have been paid to what anybody said about radon activity in the soils around L’Aquila before the ‘big one’ hit !


Tremors from an earthquake, or trembling vibrations, can be felt strongly far away from an epicentre.  I know, because I was in Amandola last Monday morning.


To be involved in Earthquake Resisting Design is one thing … I am very comfortable with technical issues, facts, concepts, building products, etc.  To become intimate, however, with the ‘reality’ of a mother of an Earthquake is altogether different !


Jerked awake in those early hours … the building was rocking, not just swaying.  Before reaching full consciousness … too much had already happened.  If the building had collapsed, I would never have known what hit me.  But, it didn’t … and there was no internal damage or cracking.


I don’t know why … but, I went back to sleep again.


Just after 08.00 hrs (local time), phone texts began to arrive from Ireland … “was everybody safe ?”.  Something ‘big’ must have happened during the night.  I rushed to put on the television news … forget about SKY NEWS, CNN, BBC and that miserable, no-good, laughable excuse for an ‘impartial, balanced and fair’ news service FOX NEWS … the best coverage … and continuous coverage … was on the Italian TV Stations.


Tragic scenes … of historical buildings destroyed … expected, because they would not be of modern (reinforced concrete or steel) construction … and, far many more than should be the case, of modern buildings seriously damaged or collapsed like a plate of pancakes … somewhat expected, because of inadequate technical controls over building design and construction in many parts of the country.


[Similar scenes of modern, ‘tofu’ construction could be witnessed after the Major Earthquakes in Central China, beginning in May 2008.]


Later that morning, I inspected an historical building which I had recently restored … and where I had incorporated earthquake resisting features.  Relief, relief, relief … not a single crack.


Travelling back to Rome by car that afternoon, fleets of emergency response vehicles moved swiftly in the opposite direction towards the Earthquake Zone …







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