Whistleblowers slam report on UL

Two whistleblowers have criticised an independent report commissioned by the Higher Education Authority into concerns they had raised about financial expenses and other HR issues at the University of Limerick.

The two women said they were “absolutely stunned” that the report by Richard Thorn, a former president of the Institute of Technology Sligo, contained no negative findings about how their cases were handled.

They have now requested a meeting with members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee which has been examining a series of staff and payment controversies at UL.

The women pointed out that a UL official investigating their complaints had dismissed vital evidence, while another official who adjudicated on their appeal against his findings had not met or contacted them.

While the HEA indicated it was concerned about such issues, the whistleblowers said they had not been addressed in the Thorn report.

In a letter to the PAC they said: “We are not sure what to believe from the HEA. We have been promised and promised so much that did not happen and have been led to believe that there would be proper scrutiny.”

One of the whistleblowers, known as C, said she had informed Mr Thorn of a vital witness whom she claimed had overheard UL staff plotting to submit false information about her and make her appear a bully. However, she said the witness had not been contacted by Mr Thorn.

C claimed he also failed to contact another witness whom she had told him would provide evidence about a bullying culture within her department.

The two whistleblowers questioned how he could make findings without speaking to all relevant parties, including a trade union official who had assisted them in their grievances with UL.

The women said their relationship with UL became worse after they refused to accept several offers of a severance package which they had never sought nor wanted. Again they criticised Mr Thorn for making no reference to that in his report.

They also complained that their evidence was not afforded a narrative in the report unlike other witnesses, some of whom had made allegations against them.

The whistleblowers said it appeared that UL was using a deliberate strategy to get people to suggest all the problems arose from “interpersonal difficulties.”

The women also said they were shocked by Mr Thorn’s finding that they were unwise to have pursued a Garda complaint against the partner of a work colleague who had threatened them with foul and abusive language at a Christmas party in the Strand Hotel in 2014.

C said it was hard to grasp that he could say that when some people were afraid to report matters to gardaí because of “victim shaming”.

They claimed the report left unanswered their queries as to why UL appeared determined to get rid of them.

Mr Thorn described the issues in UL’s accounts payable office, where the two women were based, as “complex and emotive.”

He concluded that at least one allegation the women had made about the rehiring of recently retired staff was sustained while also finding they were correct to raise queries about other issues.

Following publication of the HEA report last November, UL president Des Fitzgerald lifted the suspension of the two women, who are taking a High Court action against the university.


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