Ex-HR Director at UL fails in bid to halt probe into alleged misuse of funds

The issues arose after an RTÉ Primetime Investigates broadcast concerning the financial affairs of several third-level institutions
Ex-HR Director at UL fails in bid to halt probe into alleged misuse of funds

It is alleged that an unlawful pension transfer amounts to a loss of €200,000 to UL. File photo: Dan Linehan

A bid by a former Human Resources Director with the University of Limerick's to halt an investigation into his alleged role in the suspected misuse of funds regarding the college's pension scheme has been dismissed by the High Court.

The application was made on behalf of Dr Thomas Foy, who claimed that the continuation of the university's investigation would have resulted in him suffering "irreparable reputational damage."

He also claimed that the probe breached a settlement arrangement that he entered into with University of Limerick (UL) prior to his departure as the college's HR director in June 2018.

He had entered into talks with the college after issues arose over the university's use of funds in 2017, following an RTÉ Primetime Investigates broadcast, entitled Universities Unchallenged, concerning the financial affairs of several third-level institutions.

In a judgment, Mr Justice Michael Twomey dismissed Dr Foy's application for an injunction halting the university's probe, which if granted would have remained in place pending the outcome of the full hearing of his case against UL.

Dr Foy had failed to establish that he has a strong case that the investigation amounts to a breach of the settlement agreement, the judge said.

The judge added that the balance of justice favours allowing UL to continue the investigation into matters of serious concern, and takes precedence over Dr Foy's concern of suffering further reputational damage.

Case is of "considerable public interest"

The judge said that there was "considerable public interest" in the matter, and noted that allegations that large sums of public money had been misused at a publicly funded university had come to light in the 2017 RTÉ programme.

The programme, he said, resulted in the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee holding meetings about the financial accounts of the third-level institutions mentioned in the broadcast.

The allegations also resulted in a number of reports being commissioned by bodies, including the Higher Education Authority and the Auditor General, regarding the college's practises, the judge added.

The investigation in this case arose after UL decided to probe the applicant's alleged role in the transfer of years of pensionable service from one UL employee's pension with their former employer to that person's pension with the college.

It is alleged that the unlawful transfer of those additional years to that employees' pension amounts to a loss of €200,000 to UL.

Dr Foy, who after leaving his role as HR Director remains employed by UL, had argued that the investigation breached the settlement letter he entered into following a mediation process with UL in July 2018.

That letter, he claimed, was a full and final settlement of all matters and concerns raised by UL, he claimed.

Opposing the application, UL denied the 2018 settlement agreement with Dr Foy ever prohibited it from investigating the alleged pension payment.

It argued that it should be allowed to continue its investigation, which it commenced last year and is being conducted by an independent person.

Judge's ruling

In a written judgement, Mr Justice Twomey said the court was satisfied not to grant an interlocutory injunction halting the injunction.

The court said that he had not made out a strong case that the settlement letter contained a provision that UL could not investigate him over the allegations at the centre of the probe.

The judge said that in sworn evidence, Dr Foy had claimed that what was in fact a draft settlement agreement from the mediator amounted to an agreement with UL that it would not pursue him for matters arising out of him discharging his duties as UL's Director of HR.

This testimony was now accepted by Dr Foy to be "false", the judge said, adding that it was "hard to understand how such a false averment could be made" as it was "irreconcilable with the evidence" before the court.

While Dr Foy "did not attempt to deliberately mislead the court," the judge said that such a false averment cast doubts over the reliability of Dr Foy's other recollections of how the terms of the settlement letter came to be negotiated.

The matter returns before the court later this month.

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