Third-level bosses face grilling

Third-level bosses face a severe grilling by TDs over gaps in their evidence to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee about financial affairs.

The PAC is seeking legal advice about its powers in relation to what it believes was misleading evidence to it, including details about severance payments to two former staff at University of Limerick, who were rehired on a consultancy basis.

The payments are among issues to be examined by an independent review ordered this month by Education Minister Richard Bruton into governance, and financial and human resources matters at UL. Former Institute of Technology Sligo president Richard Thorn this week asked for anybody with concerns on issues at UL to contact him in confidence, as his inquiry begins.

The PAC concerns arose following an RTÉ Investigates programme that showed further details of financial affairs at a number of colleges, beyond those provided by senior management to the committee .

PAC chairman, Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming said they will be getting advice on the powers it has in relation to dealing with these matters. “And in particular the idea that people can come and not provide full information when they’re asked questions. The public won’t tolerate that, the Oireachtas won’t tolerate that and the Public Accounts Committee won’t tolerate that,” he told Thursday night’s programme.

UL president Des Fitzgerald said it raised issues of grave concern and he is “very concerned that UL would have been anything less than fully transparent in its dealing with the PAC”, which he said will have the university’s full co-operation in its work.

The programme showed that the Higher Education Authority had directed University College Cork (UCC) not to go ahead with its €20m-plus purchase of the Dublin campus of the Irish Management Institute (IMI), part of a deal to take over the IMI, before the deal could be externally assessed.

But UCC told the Irish Examiner that it provided further information and clarifications before the deal was completed. The HEA confirmed last night that UCC had its agreement to proceed with the transaction.

The university said it did not mislead the PAC inadvertently or otherwise in relation to the acquisition.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) said it would be reckless of the Governemnt to rush into any decision about future higher education funding while investigations about allegations in relation to colleges’ spending are taking place.

“Students and the taxpayer fund our higher education institutions….[which] are here to serve the public good, and the public must have confidence in how the funding of these institutions is managed,” USI president Annie Hoey said.


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