The Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee has told junior minister for skills John Halligan to clarify why he criticised the group for examining financial issues at Waterford IT, amid claims of an attempt to block any investigation that may damage his constituency.
The PAC has agreed to write to Mr Halligan over the case, after he sent out a statement from his department denouncing the PAC’s probe.
During its meetings with a number of colleges last week, the PAC questioned Waterford IT president Willie Donnelly over the sale of a mobile software company co-located at the college which benefited from WIT research. Feed Henry was sold to a US multinational firm in September 2014 for €63.5m, with Mr Donnelly receiving €1.3m as he owned 3.1% of Feed Henry’s shares.
During last week’s PAC meetings, the committee member and Waterford-based Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane raised concerns over the sale, specifically the fact Mr Donnelly was vice-president of research at WIT when the deal occurred.
Despite Mr Donnelly insisting nothing untoward occurred, after hearing that WIT’s governing body has commissioned a review into corporate governance issues surrounding the sale of “spin-out” firms, the PAC agreed to ask the Higher Education Authority to examine the deal.
However, in a statement sent out the following day, Mr Halligan effectively called for any examination to end. It said Mr Halligan “warned any incorrect suggestions of impropriety could have a destabilising effect on WIT at a critical point in its campaign for technological university status” and described Mr Donnelly as both having Waterford’s “best interests at heart” and that “his reputation speaks for itself”.
PAC chairman and Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming said the PAC will write to Mr Halligan and demand he explains why the case should not be examined further.
The PAC has raised concerns over politicians attempting to limit their work after Finance Minister Michael Noonan wrote to it recently about Project Eagle.
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