College aims to reclaim €120,000 from ex-president

Buying chick-lit novels and flying first-class while a colleague was in steerage form part of a court claim by Waterford Institute of Technology for repayment of €120,000 from its ex-president.

College aims to reclaim €120,000 from ex-president

It is seeking reimbursement of money spent up to that figure by the president’s office under Kieran Byrne, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told.

The emergence of extravagant spending in the former president’s office meant Mr Byrne was not given a second term, for which he was about to be nominated in 2011. But new details were revealed at yesterday’s meeting of an unpublished review of spending from 2009 to May 2011, including the use of college funds to buy books which included Mixed Doubles by Jill Mansell; Claudia Carroll’s I Never Fancied Him Anyway; Top Tips of the Baby Whisperer and a book on Audrey Hepburn.

“They would look to me like books that people would purchase in airports when they are going on travels,” Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell said.

It also emerged through questions from Labour TD Gerald Nash that Mr Byrne flew first-class from Dublin to Chicago while his governing body chairman, Redmond O’Donoghue, was in economy class.

Higher Education Authority chief executive Tom Boland said it was absolutely not normal procedure for presidents to fly first-class or business class, as Mr Byrne had apparently claimed to the Deloitte review that first examined his office’s spending in 2011.

Mr Nash suggested some of the €10,000-plus spent on a hospitality credit card used by the president was for meals while he was also receiving subsistence allowances. His successor as WIT president, Ruaidhrí Neavyn, said calculations of differences between allowance entitlements and items claimed for were part of the reimbursement claim.

Mr Nash also questioned why €3,933 was spent installing a turnstile-like security entrance to the president’s office.

Mr Neavyn said details about some items and reimbursement for some expenses were sought from Mr Byrne during the summer. But the lack of response prompted the college to lodge High Court proceedings against him six to eight weeks ago.

The case may not be heard for another year to 18 months but Dr Neavyn said WIT is very open to reaching a settlement before then. He said the cost of two Deloitte reports into spending was over €97,618, and legal costs of €22,428 have arisen so far and a separate case is being taken by Mr Byrne against the college for not giving him a second term.

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