It emerged at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday that UCC was also interested in acquiring the 19th-century building on Cork’s Grand Parade, for which CIT paid €1.25m in 2015. It has paid around the same again to convert it from its most recent use as a bank and make it safe to hold classes for CIT’s Crawford College of Art and Design.
While the asking price had been around €950,000, the college has said it had the building valued at €1.1m before its governing body approved the purchase.
Asked by Labour TD Alan Kelly about the bidding process, UCC chief financial officer Diarmuid Collins said the university was also interested in the property.
“So let me get this right, CIT bought it, UCC are bidding on it, and it cost a good bit in excess of the asking price. Do ye guys talk?” Mr Kelly asked.
He acknowledged the colleges’ point that they would not have known who else was bidding in a closed process, but Mr Kelly said it must be seen from the public point of view: “It looks very strange, it’s taxpayers’ money.”
CIT vice-president for finance and administration Paul Gallagher said they were aware there was another bidder but the purchase price was about a 10% premium on the college’s own €1.1m valuation.
Mr Kelly accepted the colleges would not have discussed the matter, but he said it is an issue to be looked at by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) or Department of Education to perhaps be aware when such potential issues are liable to arise.
“The issue for me is [that] you have two colleges here bidding against one another, the asking prices is €950,000 and they pay €1.25m, so that’s around €300,000 [difference] there,” he said.
The PAC also returned to the issue of the €13,000 spent by CIT on retirement functions last year for its former president Brendan Murphy.
Higher Education Authority (HEA) chief executive Graham Love told the PAC that a review has determined that €6,000-€7,000 of the cost was not in accordance with CIT’s own hospitality policies, and it is likely that the amount would be deducted from the amount the HEA allocates to CIT for its running costs.
The college’s interim president, Barry O’Connor, told the PAC last November that Mr Murphy had approved the main function which cost €11,000 and had personally signed off on €4,900 of catering, musical entertainment costs of €700, and the €1,840 cost of a separate retirement dinner.
The HEA board will next week consider the college’s response to its review, including a CIT proposal that proposed future spending of more than €500 by the president would require prior approval by the vice-president for finance.
Although Mr Love said his personal view is that the proposals would be acceptable, he did not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the HEA board meeting.
TDs were also told that the CIT governing body’s finance sub-committee decided late last year that it should be given an annual report of all spending by the president’s office.
The committee heard there are currently two protected disclosures being dealt with by the college.