Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) is being asked for a full explanation of how its ex-president Brendan Murphy personally signed off on more than half the €13,000 costs of two functions to mark his own retirement, writes Niall Murray.
The ability of any college to do so was sharply criticised at the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The Higher Education Authority is also seeking “a full explanation” from CIT after a letter to the PAC from CIT’s acting president Barry O’Connor revealed that Mr Murphy approved the June 1 function that cost just over €11,000.
It shows that he also personally signed off on:
<li>Catering that cost €4,892;
<li>Musical entertainment costs of €700;
<li>The €1,840 cost of a separate retirement dinner attended by 46 senior staff.
<li>Mr O’Connor wrote that catering at the larger function was provided by a subsidiary company of the college, with floor service provided by tourism and hospitality students, and the music was performed by students of CIT’s Cork School of Music.
Almost €5,500 in further costs for the function held at the college’s Nexus student centre were approved by CIT facilities management, of which €5,031.65 was spent on tables, frames and drapes, carpet and audio-visual set-up. The function included an ice sculpture of a dolphin.
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said to Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú, who was at the CIT dinner, that he could hardly hold guests responsible and acknowledged there were many politicians there. He suggested that guidelines on spending be issued about functions for retirements at colleges funded by his department.
“Would it not be important... that when you’re giving out this money it would be reasonable to say: ‘Look, by all means, buy a glass of wine but maybe not dish out 13 grand of the taxpayers’ money to acknowledge the greatness of somebody’s contribution”,” said Mr MacSharry.
Mr Ó Foghlú said it would not be normal for departments or agencies to have retirement parties for staff.
“However, there would be a recognition that when a senior leader of an organisation is retiring after a number of years... I would think it’s something that’s appropriate to be celebrated,” he said.
At a meeting last week, PAC chairman Seán Fleming said the committee would ask the HEA to examine financial controls that were in place when the CIT retirement function was agreed and to examine financial control for similar events at other colleges to make sure the same could not happen again.
A HEA spokesperson said it shared concerns expressed at the PAC about the level of spending and that the outgoing CIT president signed off on some of it.
“We are currently following up with the institute to seek a full explanation in this regard,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the Irish Examiner