Niall Murray, Education Correspondent
A staff member at NUI Galway was paid more than €90,000 while absent on grounds that did not meet the university’s own rules around payments for sabbatical leave.
The person was one of an unknown number with whom NUI Galway concluded employment-related settlements in the 2016-17 financial year. The university’s financial statements for the year to the end of last September said those settlements cost it €134,000, including severances.
But in a report to the Oireachtas accompanying the accounts, Comptroller & Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said the sum does not include payment of €91,000 to a staff member in respect of a period of non- attendance described by the university as sabbatical leave, taken immediately prior to severance.
No other details were provided, such as the length of the absence, the value of the severance payment to the same person, or whether it was a member of academic or administrative staff.
Practices around sabbatical leave and associated pay arrangements in all publicly-funded third-level colleges are to be reviewed by the Higher Education Authority.
A Dáil Public Accounts Committee report last year supported use of sabbatical leave for its professional benefits to academic staff. But it also said that questions had arisen, during its examinations of spending and governance in the sector, around the treatment of participants’ pay while on sabbatical.
The committee heard last year that the University of Limerick made a €185,000 tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners in 2013.
This followed a voluntary disclosure by the university on foot of a review of treatment of pay to staff on sabbatical from 2009 to 2012, which found that some expenses payments should have been treated as pay and should have been subject to income tax, PRSI and universal social charge.
The settlement included €23,000 interest, and related to 24 of the 47 sanctioned sabbaticals by UL staff across the four years reviewed.
The NUI Galway accounts also show that €5.2m was paid to 81 suppliers in the 12-month period for good and services for which procurement procedures used did not comply with national guidelines.
The average amount involved was nearly €64,200 but the range of payments is not stated.
In the statement of governance and internal control dated June 29, NUI Galway president Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh said the college had non-pay spending with suppliers amounting to €82m.
It has procedures to detect non-compliance with procurement procedures, including a
database or listing for all contracts or payments over €25,000, and monitoring systems to flag non-competitive procurement.
“The university is actively working with the Office of Government Procurement and with the Education Procurement Service to ensure that procurement activities are taking place in accordance with the operating model put in place by the OGP,” Mr Ó hÓgartaigh said.