THE FORMER PRESIDENT of Waterford Institute of Technology oversaw a major surge in non-pay expenditure in his office – with spending increasing twenty-fold in just eight years, TDs have been told.
The Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee yesterday heard how non-pay spending at the office of the president had stood at about €30,000 in the year 2000 – but increase significantly shortly after Professor Kieran Byrne took the helm in 2001.
Eight years later, non-pay spending had reached a peak of €634,308, with major spending on taxi firms, PR companies and flowers – leading the committee’s vice-chairman, Kieran O’Donnell, to describe his non-pay spending as “a personal slush fund”.
WIT chief financial officer Tony McFeely told members that he had approached Byrne early into his tenure, saying he was “uncomfortable” offering pre-approval for his travel expenses as they were not in line with the college’s travel and subsistence guidelines.
“His position was that in his previous job… he was making similar submissions and that wasn’t an issue,” McFeely said, adding that he had raised concerns with individual members of the college board on a confidential basis.
Byrne subsequently changed the mechanism for approving his travel spending, giving responsibility to another senior executive at the college. That person retired in 2008, after which responsibility fell back to McFeely.
A briefing note prepared by the college showed that non-pay expenditure between 2006 and 2010, the last five full calendar years of Byrne’s tenure, totalled €2.66 million.
Waterford IT’s current president Dr Ruaidhrí Neavyn conceded that it “would be hard for me to put forward a justification” for the spending incurred under his predecessor’s watch – but said a further breakdown of spending, outlined in a second external report, could not be published.
“We’ve been advised not to make any comment on the content of the report,” he said, saying that report could be the subject of legal proceedings in the future.
Neavyn asserted, however, that there was no evidence that spending in the office had gone “to the direct benefit” of his predecessor.
Byrne left Waterford IT last year at the end of his ten-year term as president – despite a recommendation from the institute’s governing body that he be reappointed – as reports of his office spending first emerged.