NUI Galway has updated its policies after an investigation found a charity set up to raise funds for the university shelled out money for luxury hotels and travel for directors’ spouses.
Last month, an investigation by the Charities Regulator found that the Galway University Foundation spent close to €50,000 on business class flights.
The charity, which was set up to raise funds for NUIG, also spent almost €30,400 on private taxi trips, with the majority of these taken by the charity’s former director and former president of NUIG, James Browne, who was the president of the university at the time.
A number of policies highlighted by the regulator have since been changed, according to Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, the current president of NUIG who joined the university in 2018.
“The policies that were in place then have been amended since,” he told the Irish Examiner. “The issues raised by the Charities Regulator, to the extent that reflect on the policies of the university, those policies are no longer in place.”
Spousal travel is no longer allowed, and there are other changes around the approval mechanisms for travel, he added.
Public transport is the norm, or certainly charging for the public transport equivalent. I think that’s indicative of the seriousness in which the university takes its accountability.
"We will be thinking about other ways in which we can demonstrate that and make that clear.
“It’s something I am uncomfortable with, it’s not something that one would be very happy with. I am an accountant by background, so I have particular views of what good accountability looks like.
"We take our responsibility in that regard very seriously and the university is determined to be accountable in public for everything that we do, and transparent likewise.”
The investigation by the Charities Regulator, initiated in 2017 on foot of concerns, found that the charity shelled out charitable funds on taxi trips between Galway and Dublin, luxury hotels, and travel for directors’ spouses.
Overseas hotels often used by the charity included the four-star Fitzpatrick Hotel in New York, the Royal Automobile Club in London, and the five-star Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt in Singapore.
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;
- Almost €11,000 on 10 trips for spouses of the foundation’s directors, with €7,965 of this specifically spent on business-class travel for Dr Browne’s wife.
However, Charities Regulator inspector Tom Murray noted that in many respects the Galway University Foundation appeared to be well run, and has raised over €146m in support of NUIG. Such funds have leverage matching funding of €65m from public and other sources, allowing NUI Galway to invest €200m in research and educational access, he added.
All donor funds were invested in NUIG projects, and recommendations around improving documentation and distinguishing between charity and university’s activities were fully addressed.