College asks its ex-president to repay expenses

Waterford Institute of Technology has asked its former president Kieran Byrne to repay some expenses incurred during his time in office that it claims were of personal benefit to him.

He was not reappointed to a second term in 2011 after details emerged of spending by his office that peaked at €630,000 in 2008 and included serious breaches of spending controls in areas such as hospitality and taxis. In total, €3.7m was spent by the college’s office of president from 2004-11.

The WIT governing body’s decision not to reappoint him is understood to be the subject of a legal challenge by Mr Byrne against the college, where he was director and later president since 2001.

WIT has now reviewed spending by his office from 2007-11 to identify any spending that could be deemed of personal benefit to him.

In a letter to the Higher Education Authority (HEA), his successor as president, Ruaidhrí Neavyn, and WIT governing body chairman Donal Ormonde, say the college has sent Mr Byrne a claim for reimbursement.

The Irish Examiner sent WIT a number of questions on the nature and scale of the expenses it claims were of personal benefit to Mr Byrne. A spokesperson said the college could not comment for legal reasons.

The WIT letter of Jun 27 to the HEA was forwarded by the Department of Education to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which has published it on the Oireachtas website.

At the PAC last September, WIT financial controller Tony McFeely said he raised concerns confidentially with board members about spending soon after Mr Byrne took office in 2001, particularly about his travel to Dublin, hotel stays, and taxis.

Former WIT governing body chairpersons Redmond O’Donoghue and Noel Richards both made statements later that they were never told about any concerns over expenses.

Mr O’Donoghue said he had sanctioned a private charter flight, which the PAC heard cost €4,200, to get a visiting academic who was assessing WIT’s claim for university status, from Waterford to Dublin to meet key people in Mar 2007.

It later transpired at the PAC, after further probing by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office, that the college paid for return flights from Britain to Dublin to get the expert to a meeting with then taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Jun 2007. Total costs came in at nearly €5,000.

The WIT letter to the HEA says the governing body believes the transactions relating to flights were unnecessary and not good value for money. “The procurement and authorisation processes adopted were inappropriate and the information that was available regarding these flights was insufficient and inadequate,” the college wrote.

WIT outlined a number of changes taken to address the shortfalls in financial oversights that have been identified in relation to spending in the president’s office during the time.

These included breaches of college policies such as hospitality, travel, and credit card usage. It said the office of the president’s budget has been reduced to €140,000 this year, of which €125,000 relates to the college’s 2013 contribution to representative body Institutes of Technology Ireland.


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