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University presidents showed 'arrogance' when questioned about financial misconduct, claims TD

An RTÉ Investigates show aired last night which highlighted a number of incidents in the third-level sector.

Image: Shutterstock/Alena 11

THE ‘LEVEL OF arrogance’ of some presidents of Irish universities was displayed in an RTÉ Investigates show last night, according to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

An RTÉ investigates show  highlighted a number of incidents in the third-level sector.

During the show, the PAC said it is to seek legal advice after some of its members said the committee was misled by senior university staff.

The show uncovered evidence of breaches of ethics and procurement laws at the University of Limerick.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, the chairman of the PAC Sean Fleming said: “We weren’t given the full picture in any case of any of the four colleges that were shown last night.”

We got some information, limited information, and I would describe the performance of most of the heads of those third level institutions of showing a lack of candor.

“They didn’t show full openness or truthfulness at those meetings and they even used an excuse last night that they didn’t have time to answer context questions,” Fleming said.

“This category of public bodies is one where we do need a serious change of culture at the most senior level.”

The PAC committee was misled, according to Fleming.

“Whether it was their intention [the officials from the four universities] to do it or not, that was a matter for them but we were misled.”

Over 150,000 transactions were examined by the programme, using a year of Freedom of Information documentation. It investigated billions of euros of spending by government departments, public bodies and agencies.

RTÉ Investigates examined a range of practices at the University of Limerick including:

  • The setting up of subsidiary companies that can pay its employees, over and above the UL salary cap
  • Members of the governing authority failing to declare interests in companies that were awarded contracts by UL.
  • Two lump sum severance packages of €231,000 and €220,000 being paid to senior staff who were then awarded consultancy contracts. A Comptroller & Auditor General investigation declared the payments were excessive.

The investigation also look into issues at NUIG, WIT and UCC.

This morning, Fleming claimed that UL heads engaged in using public money in an attempt to silence the local media in Limerick.

The university was ordered by the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority to stop using public funds for that purpose.

It is very serious and we only scratched the surface.

Fleming posed the question of how the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority allowed the situation to continue for years knowing that the third level colleges were not providing up-to-date financial statements.

“We started a meeting with WIT because their financial statements were two and a half years out of date,” he said.

“We don’t know how the Department of Education and the Higher Education Authority can adequately review their finances when each year they come before the Oireachtas to seek further funds to these colleges when they don’t have full complete financial information about what’s going on in the colleges in the previous years.”

The University of Limerick has agreed to the establishment of an independent review into the governance, HR practices and financial procedures.

Read: ‘€100,000 was spent on pens and medallions for retiring university staff’

More: University of Limerick asks for review after claims of financial misconduct

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