WIT thanks ex-president after he declines offer of alternative post

WATERFORD Institute of Technology (WIT) has thanked former president Kieran Byrne for his contribution to the college after he decided not to remain on in a management role.

The college’s governing body had been recommended to reappoint Professor Byrne when his 10-year contract ended in mid-May. However, after controversy arose over spending by his office in the previous seven years — including more than €140,000 on taxis — it was decided instead to widen the search for a college president.

The governing body pointed out, at the time, he could remain on as a member of management but it has now emerged that Prof Byrne has decided to forego that option.

“He was offered an alternative post as a member of management, but he did not take up the offer. The governing body would like to thank him for his years of service,” a WIT spokesperson told the Irish Examiner.

WIT is appointing a recruitment agency to help find his replacement and the post is expected to be advertised nationally and internationally next month, with a view to filling the vacancy later this year.

The college’s secretary and financial controller Tony McFeely was appointed interim president in May.

It is understood that a report commissioned by the college authorities into spending by the president’s office are still awaited from accountancy firm Deloitte. It was asked in early May to carry out an independent review of spending which came to light through Freedom of Information requests.

The Higher Education Authority had also requested urgent information from the college after details of the spending emerged.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn also made a statement on the issue which, although he stopped short of making any direct criticism, was unusual given the legal autonomy of third level institutions on how they spend their budgets.

The details that emerged in May included payments of almost €130,000 to one taxi service between 2004 and 2011. Prof Byrne told the Irish Examiner in May that he regularly used a taxi to attend meetings in Dublin rather than accruing mileage expenses or having to pay for overnight stays in the capital.

He said the overall spending of €3.5 million in the period concerned was less than 1% of the college’s overall budget. The figure included almost €1m paid through the president’s office in subscriptions and fees to employers’ organisation IBEC and umbrella organisation Institutes of Technology Ireland.

Previously-released figures also showed that almost €21,000 was spent on security, furniture and fittings in the president’s office, part of a €21m building opened just three years ago and which was already fitted out at a cost of €50,000. Other expenses included more than €500,000 on publicity, including payments to public relations firms and professional photographers.

The figures also include almost €250,000 in travel expenses for governing body members. The boardroom in the tourism and leisure building, which also accommodates the president’s office, cost €86,750 to fit out.

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