The chief executive of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) strongly rejected suggestions that he “went looking for the head” of the former president of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
During a sometimes tetchy hearing of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Tom Boland rejected assertions made by Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald that he had sought the resignation of Prof Kieran Byrne.
Prof Byrne and WIT had become embroiled in a major controversy over “extreme extravagance” in spending by his office and Ms McDonald claimed at the committee she had spoken to Prof Byrne about a meeting he had with Mr Boland. Ms McDonald said Prof Byrne was “quite categoric” in his view that “you, Mr Boland went looking for his head”.
The Dublin Central TD referred to media reports which suggested that the then education minister, Ruairí Quinn, and senior education officials were deeply concerned about the revelations coming out of Waterford IT and felt that Prof Byrne “had to go”.
In response, Mr Boland said he while he recalled the meeting with Prof Byrne in a hotel, he denied that he called on him to resign. Mr Boland stated that because there is litigation ongoing, he was reluctant to discuss the meeting in detail as it was sub judice.
However, the chairman of the PAC last night rejected Mr Boland’s evidence, saying he believes he did seek his resignation and did so at the behest of the minister. Speaking to the Irish Examiner, John McGuinness said: “He sought out Byrne and called on him to go. It was similar to Brian Purcell’s departure”.
Ms McDonald also rejected Mr Boland’s explanations. “Mr Boland was evasive on the details, there is a clash of what happened. His account leaves me remaining to be convinced”.
At the PAC meeting, Mr Boland was also probed as to why a report he commissioned by WIT was not given to the committee. Mr Boland said he could not explain why the committee did not get the report but promised to look into the matter.
In 2013, WIT began a High Court action against Prof Byrne seeking the repayment of up to €120,000 in expenses allegedly used for his personal benefit.
WIT has sought the return of money spent on flights, hospitality costs and taxis.
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