PAC probes UCC salaries

UCC’s president said that he does not know what staff payments the Department of Education believes breach pay rules.

He was responding to the department’s claim to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that it has found unauthorised payments not previously notified. UCC was previously found to have made unauthorised payments worth more than €1.6m above approved salary levels, a practice in many universities which was the subject of past comptroller and auditor general and PAC probes.

Michael Murphy told the Irish Examiner he has never seen the €1.9m figure that was reported in the media yesterday as the total or overpayments at UCC, and does not know how it was derived. He said the university’ response to a letter from department secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú will tell him it is in compliance with requirements.

“Until we have had a meeting with them, we have yet to ascertain what they interpret to be the challenging areas and then I will deal with them,” said Dr Murphy.

He said payments that were clearly defined as unpermitted have ceased. However, he said mechanisms to regularise payments above salaries set by the minister, or for authorisation for such top-ups, were not put in place for 13 years after the 1997 Universities Act.

“We’ve been trying to clear up the consequences of that, and definitions of what is at issue here have changed over the last two years,” said Dr Murphy. “That’s why we need to meet the department to clarify precisely what is at issue.”

However, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said the matter was brought to her department’s attention by UCC itself and she views it as serious.

“My understanding is that, as soon as it came to their attention, they immediately informed the department,” Ms O’Sullivan said after an event she attended at UCC with Dr Murphy.

Mr Ó Foghlú’s letter to the PAC said the issue arose from the department’s analysis of a schedule submitted by Dr Murphy. It accompanied a letter saying UCC had recently completed an examination of all additional payments for 2014, with a view to ensuring it is compliant with national pay policy.

“The information contained in the schedule is regrettably incomplete and the outstanding data have been sought from the university,” he wrote.

UCC and other universities oppose legislation, which Ms O’Sullivan said is almost drafted, that would sanction them for breaches of national pay policy.

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