A charity set up to fundraise for NUI Galway shelled out charitable funds on taxi trips between Galway and Dublin, luxury hotels and travel for directors’ spouses.
The Galway University Foundation also spent close to €50,000 on business class flights to New York, Beijing, Toronto and Singapore within a three-year period, an investigation by the Charities Regulator has found.
Overseas hotels often used by the charity included the 4-star Fitzpatrick Hotel in New York, The Royal Automobile Club in London, The Westin in Cleveland and the 5-star Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt in Singapore.
The charity also spent almost €30,400 on 102 private taxi trips within the same three-year period, with most of these trips between Galway to Dublin, and from Dublin to Galway. The taxi trips also included travel between Galway to Sligo, Limerick, Shannon and Athlone.
The majority of these trips were taken by the charity's former director and former president of NUI Galway Dr James Browne, who was the president of the institute at this time.
The Regulator agreed with the foundation that there was a marginal difference of €4,192 for the 102 trips when compared to the Revenue approved rate of travel and subsistence.
The investigation also found that the Galway University Foundation spent:
- A further €24,145 on flights that included economy class tickets one way, and a business class return
- An average of €385 per night on hotel accommodation, with the cost of hotels in many cases in excess of Revenue’s guidelines for overseas travel
- A further €32,202 on flights and accommodation for guests
- Almost €11,000 on ten trips for spouses of the foundation’s directors, with €7,965 of this specifically spent on business-class travel for Dr Browne's wife
- Almost €10,000 on tickets for Rugby Autumn and Six Nations International tickets
- €21,200 via a donation to the NUI Galway rugby club
Inspector Tom Murray noted that in many respects the Galway University Foundation appeared to be well-run, and has raised more than €146m in support of NUI Galway. Such funds have leverage matching funding of €65m from public and other sources, allowing NUI Galway to invest €200 million in research, training and educational access, he added.
The investigation contains "points of learning" for all charities, according to Charities Regulator CEO Helen Martin. In a statement, a spokesman for the Galway University Foundation said it "welcomes" the publication of the report. "As requested, we will provide the Charities Regulator with an update on the matters raised in the report."
He added that 100% of donor funds are invested in NUI Galway projects "and two recommendations around improving documentation and distinguishing between charity and university's activities have been "fully addressed".