UL president ‘will not hesitate’ on any breach

University of Limerick (UL) president Des Fitzgerald says he will not hesitate to take action if a number of ongoing probes uncover any breaches of conduct rules by staff or directors.

After his appointment last month, Prof Fitzgerald sought the external inquiry to examine a range of issues as he wants to restore the university’s reputation.

At yesterday’s Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting, he described as unacceptable the way two whistleblowers have been treated and left on suspension for the last two years.

Allegations in relation to expense claims dealt with in the finance department where the two women work will form a key element of the inquiry, which is due to be completed by the end of September by former Institute of Technology Sligo president Richard Thorn.

A recent RTÉ Investigates programme highlighted other issues at UL around procurement, and apparent conflicts of interest by members of UL’s governing authority in relation to purchase of goods and services.

Prof Fitzgerald said he will have no hesitation in taking action if necessary, once all information is collected by an internal review and by auditors to allow him make a judgment on what happened.

Although the review will continue for several more months, Dr Thorn told the PAC he has told Prof Fitzgerald he is not going to stop him if there are breaches of UL’s internal codes and the UL president needs to act.

At the same PAC meeting, TDs criticised University College Cork management’s representation at a previous appearance of their acquisition of the Irish Management Institute (IMI) as being at no cost to taxpayers. UCC said it will pay interest on a loan it took out to buy IMI’s 13-acre Dublin campus for €20m using income from IMI for leasing it back from the university.

However, PAC members said there remains a risk to taxpayers if the institute runs into difficulty generating income.

Committee chairman and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said UCC could have acquired the IMI company and brand without taking on the loan, but it has instead come in as a banking intermediary to help clear IMI’s property and pension debts with the €20m campus purchase.

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