PAC hears ice sculpture formed part of €13k spend on retirement party for ex-CIT president

The Public Accounts Committee has today urged the The Department of Education to curb their spending on retirement parties.

It comes after it was revealed that €13,000 was spent on a retirement function for the former president of Cork Institute of Technology.

The committee heard that an ice sculpture was used in the party funded by the taxpayer.

The Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said: "So if €13,000 can be thrown away on ice sculptures for a party to acknowledge the greatness of somebody... then I am saying that is wrong."

The Evening Echo also revealed earlier this year that CIT spent €12,931.55 on events to mark the retirement of Dr Brendan Murphy.

Dr Brendan Murphy.

They included a governing body retirement dinner on June 1 for the president at a cost of €11,091.55, according to Freedom of Information documents.

This figure included €4,892.58 spent on catering for the event, €3,413.20 spent on providing tables, pipe and drapes and carpet for the dinner, as well as a further €1,617.45 spent on audiovisual setup.

A further €700 was also paid to CSM Amadeus Quartet Music as well as €260.68 for caretaker overtime and €206.64 for additional cleanup costs.

CIT also spent €1,840 on catering for a separate dinner for senior staff held to mark Dr Murphy’s retirement.

Mr MacSharry questioned the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills Seán Ó Foghlú this morning about the issue during a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee.

He asked what guidelines the department had retirement party spending.

Mr Ó Foghlú said: "It wouldn't be the 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 would be leaving after a number of years that it would be appropriate to be celebrate.

"It is not something we have a guideline on. It's important for the institution in question to recognise the achievements of a leader over a period of time."

Mr Ó Foghlú said he did not know the details of the costs of the function, to which he was invited and attended.

However, Mr Ó Foghlú said: "I think it is appropriate for institutions to celebrate the retirement," but Mr MacSharry asked if he thought €13,000 was appropriate.

The Fianna Fáil TD went on to say that everyone goes to Christmas parties paid for by themselves, and asked: "Would you not have divvied up to acknowledge the great contribution of this man if you were invited and asked? Or would you prefer that the taxpayer divvy up €13,000 for drapes, frames and audio visual set-up?

"Is it the practice to divvy out taxpayers' money for this purpose? Or should the invitees be quite reasonably asked if they would like to contribute?"

Mr Ó Foghlú said that it was the norm in his department for people to make "a minor contribution" towards the retirement of their own colleagues.

Mr MacSharry suggested that the department issue a circular saying "by all means buy a glass of wine but maybe not dish out €13,000 of taxpayers' money to acknowledge the greatness of somebody's contribution" to which Mr Ó Foghlú said there are circulars about expenditure on meals.

The Fianna Fáil TD said: "So if €13,000 can be thrown away on ice sculptures for a party to acknowledge the greatness of somebody, that the person himself was the person acknowledged and saying that it was okay to spend that money, then I am saying that is wrong."

Mr MacSharry concluded by urging the department to compile a circular to avoid it happening again.

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