By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
The Dáil public accounts committee has demanded that Cork Institute of Technology explain why it spent €13,000 on a “banquet” for its retiring president which involved a “red carpet, marquee, and ice-sculpture of a dolphin” as students are struggling for help.
Committee chairman and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said he will write to the college seeking answers after the lavish and “extravagant” spending was revealed in the Irish Examiner’s sister newspaper, the Evening Echo.
Official records released under the Freedom of Information Act last month show that CIT spent €13,000 on events held over the summer to mark the retirement of its president, Dr Brendan Murphy.
The largest part of the expenditure involved an €11,091.55 governing body retirement dinner which involved a red carpet, marquee, statuettes, and an ice-sculpture of a dolphin.
CIT also spent €1,840 on a separate dinner for senior staff to mark the retirement, while a photo album and bouquet of flowers were presented.
Tom O’Connor, a CIT lecturer in economics, public policy, health, and social care, has hit out at the spending, describing it as “extravagance” and warning that the rate is “four times the cost to register a student” who is already facing financial hardship.
CIT has defended the expenditure, saying in a statement at the time of the FoI last month: “Dr Brendan Murphy has had a long and distinguished career in CIT, both as an educator and as an administrator. The event represented a valuable opportunity to showcase CIT to these guests who have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the development of CIT.”
Yesterday, Mr Fleming said answers are needed on what happened.
Warning that CIT needs to provide a “detailed explanation” for why the spending was required, Mr Fleming said the total cost is “a lot of money” that may have been put to better use in helping students in need by investing in a hardship fund.
“I propose we write to CIT to give us a detailed explanation as to why they felt it was appropriate to spend €13,000 in view of the difficulties, I would say. I think the student hardship fund would have benefited more from that €13,000 than a banquet to celebrate a retiring official.”
The position was backed by Labour TD and committee member Alan Kelly, who said action is needed to ensure answers are provided over the spending levels.
The committee and CIT have clashed before, while earlier this year, the former published a report on the true levels of funding that third-level institutes have in their accounts.
This article first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.