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NUI Galway charity criticised by regulator for spending over €30,000 on taxis

The report also found over €48,000 had been spent by Galway University Foundation on business class flights from 2015-17.

Image: Shutterstock/gabriel12

AN INVESTIGATION INTO a charity which raises money for NUI Galway has found that over €30,000 was spent on 102 taxis over a three-year period.

The Charities Regulatory Authority launched an investigation into Galway University Foundation after concerns were raised in June 2017 about the use of the charity’s funds for travel and hospitality in 2015, 2016, 2017. 

The charities watchdog appointed inspectors in April 2018 and their report was finalised last month. In its conclusions, the report said that the use of charitable monies was “inconsistent” with general best practice.

Dr James Browne, NUIG president and a director of the charity during the three-year period in question, used a private taxi service 89 times. 

The inspection report notes that there was no substantial backup documentation on file as to the purpose of the trips and the justification for using a taxi service. 

Inspectors found that while most of the trips were for Galway to Dublin or Dublin to Galway, there were also trips from Galway to Sligo, Limerick, Shannon and Athlone. In most of the cases, they were return trips but some were one way. 

Dr Browne utilised 77 out of the 102 private taxi services on his own over the three-year period. He was joined by the CEO of the charity on 9 out of the 12 occasions that he shared a taxi. The CEO used the taxi service alone 3 of the times. 

For the remaining 10 occasions, the taxi service was used by various individuals. 

In an interview with inspectors, Dr Browne said that the “demanding” role required attending events which finished late, and were followed by early morning meetings “significant distances away”. 

The report concluded the “use of charitable monies on a taxi service for long-distance travel is generally inconsistent with value for money considerations”.

First-class flights 

The charity also spent €48,500 on business class flights in the period to New York, Singapore, Beijing and Toronto. A further €24,145 was also spent on economy and business class flights.

The report found that a total of ten trips costing over €10,800 was spent on spousal travel for foundation directors over the three years,  with €7,965 of this specifically spent on business-class travel for Dr Browne’s wife.

Dr Browne told inspectors that the university’s policy “provides for spousal travel in exceptional circumstances”, whereby it benefits the university.

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In its conclusions, the report said that there was no evidence given to the inspector which indicated the “exceptional nature of the circumstances for which spousal travel was claimed”. The report notes that on 1 March last, the charity withdrew spousal travel.

Browne said his wife’s travel was “exceptional” and only took place for “the purpose of building philanthropic relationships”.

A review of the charity’s nominal ledgers and hotel booking receipts found that the average cost of accommodation booked was €385 per night.

“In many cases, the cost of hotels was in excess of Revenue guidelines for overseas travel,” inspectors said.

Overseas hotels often used by the charity included the 4-star Fitzpatrick Hotel in New York, The Royal Automobile Club in London, The Westin in Cleveland and the 5-star Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt in Singapore.

“The report contains points of learning for all charities and we would encourage those who are responsible for the management and administration of charities to read the full text of the report,” Charities Regulator CEO Helen Martin said.

“The mission of the Charities Regulator is to regulate the charity sector in the public interest so as to ensure compliance with the law and support best practice in the governance, management and administration of charities. As a regulator, we are keen to support charities in their efforts to comply with their legal obligations and standards of good governance.”

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Adam Daly

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