The University of Limerick (UL) has commissioned consultants KPMG to run a review of the university’s acquisition of a building in the city allegedly for more than double its value.
In May 2019, UL purchased the Dunnes Stores site on Sarsfield's Bridge, a former shopping centre covering 59,000 sq ft in Limerick city centre, for about €8m.
It has since emerged that the site had been valued at just €3m in 2017, while no record exists of an independent valuation being commissioned prior to the purchase.
While KPMG has been retained to run a review of the acquisition, it’s understood that that review was initially due for completion several weeks ago but has yet to be delivered.
The Dunnes Stores site was closed by the retailer in 2008 but continued to be maintained in the aftermath. UL had acquired it with a view to building a city centre campus, with the university expected to make use of the site from later this year.
UL is due to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday morning regarding the Dunnes acquisition, its accounts, and a number of outstanding issues from its last appearance at PAC in January 2019.
Kerstin Mey, president of the university since July 2020, is expected to tell the committee that she is “very aware that the reputation of the university in recent years has been buffeted too often by controversy and disharmony” and that, likewise, its relationship with PAC “has not been as constructive or harmonious as it should have been”.
The university’s previous appearance at the committee was noteworthy for a number of sharp exchanges both regarding an alleged fraud which allegedly occurred there and its alleged mistreatment of a number of whistleblowers.
Regarding the alleged fraud, Prof Mey is expected to tell the committee that following the previous meeting, her predecessor Des Fitzgerald had “sought legal advice in respect of the relevant issue and the university briefed the gardaí on the matter and we have co-operated fully with them on this issue since”.
She will acknowledge that at the previous meeting “there was a lot of discussion about the plight of two members of staff who had identified as whistleblowers”.
“I can confirm that we have reached agreement on one individual and the matter is completely resolved with approval from the department,” Prof Mey will say.
“In the second case, the individual did agree to the terms of a full and final settlement but subsequently raised concerns about tax liabilities and has not yet signed the settlement which had been agreed.”