HEA spends €75k probing University of Limerick’s handling of whistleblowers

The Higher Education Authority has spent over €75,000 so far probing how the University of Limerick handled whistleblowers’ claims about irregular expense claims and ensuing industrial relations problems.

Two of the whistleblowers who raised concerns about claims have been suspended since early 2015, and the third is a former employee who left UL in 2010.

HEA officials told the Dáil public accounts committee (PAC) that the report it commissioned from consultants Mazars into the processes engaged by UL to deal with the allegations cost €69,000.

A further €7,000, plus Vat, was spent on an unsuccessful attempt by external facilitator Jane Williams to resolve staff issues resulting from the issue.

HEA chief executive Graham Love told TDs the two UL employees remain suspended, in receipt of full pay, pending the outcome of a process with the Workplace Relations Commission. He said the protected disclosures to the authority about claims of irregular expense claims were made after the two staff were suspended.

After several efforts to resolve issues between the parties, he said the HEA has exhausted its powers.

“We have raised the matter with the Department of Education, and I understand it has had engagement with the university very recently on the matter,” said Mr Love.

UL representatives will be at the PAC to discuss its 2014/15 accounts today.

Independent Galway TD Catherine Connolly asked if she understood correctly that the whistleblowers’ claims were substantiated.

“Not the actual money paid out because I think the problem was caught in time, but the actual issues raised in terms of claims being made for travel, I think they were substantiated,” she said.

Mr Love said aspects of the allegations had been upheld.

“As you absolutely said, inappropriate claims were initially made but then they were appropriately challenged,” he said.

Ms Connolly said it was bizarre that the staff issues remain unresolved following the February 2016 Mazars report and the facilitation process.

“I think there were a number of other claims and instances in the institution, allegations from staff that became the subject of this WRC process,” said Mr Love.

The Mazars report showed that irregular expense claims by staff were appropriately identified and challenged, and that UL followed the formal processes to deal with the allegations.

** The HEA has subsequently written to the PAC to state that the disclosure by the two whistleblowers was made to the HEA before they were suspended in 2015, and not the other way around as indicated to the meeting on March 29, 2017, by Mr Love.

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