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Report criticises University of Limerick over €1.7 million staff severance deals

The report was also critical of the university’s treatment of whistleblower Leona O’Callaghan.

UL
UL
Image: Shutterstock/Patryk Kosmider

A HIGHER EDUCATION Authority report into spending at the University of Limerick has found the college spent €1.7 million on severance packages for eight staff.

The Thorn report, published today, shows that the agreements were made between 2008 and 2015.

The report by Dr Richard Thorn heavily criticises the university over the payments. It was commissioned by the HEA and Department of Education.

The report made 10 recommendations that it says should be implemented. These include a need to account for all severance packages. The HEA has written to the University requesting a full and formal response by Friday November 24 and making it clear that the recommendations must be acted on without delay.

The report was also critical of the university’s treatment of whistleblower Leona O’Callaghan. It found that O’Callaghan’s concerns should have been dealt with “at an earlier stage”.

UL president Dr Des Fitzgerald and the university’s new senior management team say that they will now consider and act on this report.

Dr Fitzgerald said:

“It is an extensive report and we must now study it in detail and respond to the HEA as quickly and comprehensively as possible and certainly by November 24th. Nevertheless, I do wish to immediately acknowledge the seriousness of the matters addressed within it.

“Personally, despite the complex management and governance issues this report clearly highlights, what concerns me most of all is what it is says about how UL has treated some of its people in the past. Since I arrived at UL in May, I have emphasised our duty of care as an employer. This report casts light on occasions in the past where UL fell short of this standard.

UL will act swiftly in response to this report. It puts forward a series of recommendations, many of which are currently being addressed following a review of governance initiated by the UL Governing Authority in June 2017 and the recent change in management structures.

“I am encouraged that issues that had remained unresolved for far too long have now been thoroughly examined by the Higher Education Authority and Department of Education and Skills. I hope the publication of this report further helps to bring a positive resolution to these matters.”

A statement from the legal representatives of two whistleblowers at the university said:

It’s been a very traumatic and difficult time for both of our clients over the last number of years. Our clients will now need sufficient time to examine the Richard Thorn report as published today in detail to consider its findings.

“We are also conscious so as not to prejudice our clients’ legal positions due to current proceedings instigated against UL, and will refrain from any further comment until it is time to do so.”

The report was noted by both Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton and the Minister for State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

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