Two unpublished reports cost University of Limerick €133k

The University of Limerick (UL) spent €133,300 on two reports, which it has refused to publish, in relation to matters raised in its dealing with whistleblower controversies.

The reviews were carried out earlier this year, in connection with governance, HR, and other issues around the management of the university. Most of the issues were being examined because of claims made in protected disclosures about financial matters, as well as issues reported by the media.

A review of the governance structures, commissioned by UL, was conducted by consultants, Crowe Horwath, and it cost €55,000.

A separate audit, of issues relating to declaration of interests by senior managers and governing authority members, severance payments, and HR matters was carried out by Deloitte for UL’s governing authority. The Irish Examiner has learned the cost of that exercise was €78,300.

Both figures include VAT and were provided in response to requests to UL, under freedom of information (FOI) law. The requests were submitted three weeks ago, after UL said a press query about the costs, three weeks previously, should be handled under FOI instead.

The university has refused to release the reports themselves, which were also sought in a November 6 press query, two days before publication of a review by Richard Thorn, for Education Minister Richard Bruton, into some of these and other, related matters.

UL told the Irish Examiner that the Crowe Horwath and Deloitte reports contained information on issues that were still under deliberation and negotiation. It said they include opinions, advice, recommendations, and results of consultations that were still under consideration and review, and releasing such information prematurely would have “a significant, adverse effect on the university and the performance of its functions”.

“The reports also contain personal information of individuals and we are obliged, under data-protection legislation, to protect the privacy of this information,” UL said on November 16.

Subsequent to the two reports, the membership of UL’s new governing authority has been reduced from 35 to 29, with new limits to the terms they can serve. The outgoing governing authority directed senior UL managers to implement all the recommendations arising from the secret Deloitte report.

Among the topics it dealt with was the use of severance packages, an issue that caused concern last March, when the Department of Education learned from hearings at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee that two senior UL staff, paid unapproved severances in 2012, had been rehired on a consultancy basis.

Last month, UL president Des Fitzgerald lifted suspensions imposed in 2015 on two finance department staff, whose protected disclosures prompted many of the issues examined in the reviews and in the Thorn report. Their allegations about inappropriate expense claims were not upheld by a previous report commissioned by UL, but their treatment, after raising concerns, formed part of Mr Thorn’s report.

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