By: Michael O’Farrell 

Investigations Editor

A BUS Éireann contractor, who earned €70k a month from school routes, gave free holiday stays to the inspector responsible for overseeing his work, an Irish Mail on Sunday investigation can reveal.

Our exclusive pictures show Bus Éireann inspector Paddy Begley and contractor Séamus Keenan, who owns bus firm Anchor Tours, together in Lanzarote just before Christmas. They have holidayed together there for the past six years.

These fresh revelations come at a worrying time for Bus Éireann. Internal documents, seen by the MoS, suggest the company is on the brink of collapse within 18 months unless decisive steps are taken.

Reacting to reports yesterday that management was planning to cut overtime and eliminate the carryover of annual leave, unions said they would vigorously oppose cuts and warned of industrial action.

Bus Éireann first began rolling out a formal tendering process in 2011. This was amid long-standing claims of potential conflicts of interest involving gifts and holidays.

Two years ago, the MoS published a series of investigations involving a number of whistleblowers from around the country, with one admitting to paying for holidays and hotel stays in return for routes.

Busman's holiday

Photo; Michael Chester

Busman's holiday

As an inspector with Bus Éireann’s €166m school transport scheme, Mr Begley has been responsible for overseeing and monitoring all school routes in Co. Louth for years, including those allocated to Anchor Tours. During this time Mr Begley, an inspector for 17 years, stayed for free in Mr Keenan’s apartment twice.

Busman's holiday

The Irish Mail on Sunday – Jan 15, 2017.

Mr Keenan says Mr Begley has an open-ended invitation to stay there again. He also says he offered free accommodation at his PuertoBusman's holiday Del Carmen property to two other Bus Éireann inspectors, though they didn’t take up the offer and have since retired.

Speaking a
bout his offer to these two inspectors, he told the MoS: ‘When they were giving work out and there was work going in, and you felt that I’m helping these and these are helping me, I’d say look there’s an apartment out there in Lanzarote if you ever want to use it for a week there’s no problem.

‘Work away. There’s no charge, just get your own flights and pay your own way and that’s it… I have no issue. I don’t need anything for it. “Oh,” they said, “we wouldn’t do that, we’d give you a contribution.” Never happened anyway. They never took it up.’ When asked if they had declined the offer because it may have been inappropriate, one of these inspectors said: ‘I’m retired now. I’ve no comment to make.’ Both Mr Keenan and Mr Begley say they are long-standing friends who believe they have done nothing wrong by holidaying together.

For the past four years they have split the cost of sharing another apartment with other friends while on holiday in Lanzarote because of water and electricity problems at Mr Keenan’s apartment. However, before that Mr Keenan says he made his apartment available to Mr Begley for free, an offer that remains open to Mr Begley and his wife once the property is repaired.

‘I said to Paddy one time, probably four or five years ago, Paddy, I’m doing a week in Lanzarote in November if you’d care to come,’ Mr Keenan said: ‘He paid his own way. I didn’t charge him for the apartment naturally. It’s fine we don’t pay for our own apartment. He paid his flight and we shared the groceries and bought our own drinks. End of story. No other favours. Nothing whatsoever. Paddy does me no favours. He never did. He actually fired me more than any favours he gave me.’ Mr Keenan agreed that a week’s stay for one person in such a beach-front apartment would be worth about €500. Under Bus Éireann’s code of conduct employees are forbidden from accepting gifts worth more than €70 in one year, and must report such offers.

They are also forbidden from accepting hospitality involving overnight stays. Contractors must sign a ‘conflict of interest’ declaration as part of tenders they submit for a school bus route. This states: ‘Neither I nor any employee, adviser, servant, agent, consultant, shareholders or relatives of the company, have any relationship with employees, advisers, servants, agents, consultants or shareholders of Bus Éireann… that does or could potentially result in a conflict of interest.’ When the MoS asked Mr Begley if he had formally declared the Lanzarote holidays and free apartment stays to Bus Éireann he said his superiors were aware of the trips. ‘That we went on holidays to Lanzarote yeah. They knew who I went with yeah,’ he said, naming two superiors.

Pressed further about a formal declaration, he said: ‘Declare what? I go on holidays with that man across the road, that man over there and that one over there? That’s nobody’s but my business.’ He said he had been investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing by Bus Éireann two years ago. He told the MoS: ‘I was called up before when someone made allegations I was getting free holidays and free this and free that… There was a big investigation and not a word about it. It was all bull****. I had bills and I had receipts and I had everything.’ Mr Keenan – the person best placed to corroborate or refute these allegations – said he had not been spoken to by anyone in Bus Éireann during this investigation.

He said he had nothing to hide and was happy to speak to anyone about the matter. He added: ‘Well the apartment’s free for everybody. No issue. I don’t need the money. As I say. I get enough money from the rental of the complex. I’m happy enough. It’s only a week for free.’ He acknowledged the holidays may appear to some to be a conflict of interest but he believed no one had done anything wrong. He said he knew of reports that inspectors were getting backhanders down the country. He added: ‘One contractor reporting another basically because he assumed that backhandand ers were being passed. I don’t even know if it was proven.

‘I do remember thinking at the time, “Jesus, Paddy Begley! If he was in this situation he’d be in serious bother.” And I knew Paddy Begley would never be in serious bother because he pays his way. And thank God.’ Mr Keenan said he had not offered free accommodation in the expectation of anything in return.

‘It wasn’t because Paddy Begley gave me something that he shouldn’t have gave me. There was never any favouritism. The exact opposite.’ When asked if he’d declared the trips when tendering for routes he did not reply directly, saying his daughters did his tendering.

Until recent years Mr Keenan’s firm Anchor Tours operated more than a dozen school routes in Louth. At a typical cost of €260 a day per route the monthly cost to Bus Éireann was as much as €70,000 a month.The firm currently has nine school routes and provides buses for other routes and intercity services. Mr Keenan also alleged other operators were giving much larger gifts. He said: ‘There’s guys going in there with televisions and DVD players. I’m not into that. I just give gracefully – give something for a spot prize at the party. End of story. That’s it. There’s no competition as to who gives the best. So I’d see no reason to do other than that.’

Busman's holiday 2

Photo; Michael Chester

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