University of Limerick paid out €1.9m to staff in severance deals, FOI shows

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

UL paid out more than €1.9 million in settlements to close to 60 former employees within the past decade

UL paid out more than €1.9 million in settlements to close to 60 former employees within the past decade

THE University of Limerick paid out more than €1.9 million in settlements to close to 60 former employees within the past decade, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show.

UL refused to comment on how many of those packages it sought sanction for in advance from the Department of Education & Skills, which it is obliged to notify before any severance is approved.

Six of the 57 payments made by UL were six-figure settlement agreements, which amount to a total of €954,387 within the past decade, the FOI shows.

They included individual payments of €231,506, €220,332, €182,506, €155,043, €150,000 and €15,000.

The sum of €150,000 was paid by UL to a lecturer to terminate his employment after he was accused of allegedly inappropriately touching students. UL would not outline what disciplinary actions, if any, were taken against the employee in advance of this settlement, after he worked in UL for more than a decade.

The accusations of inappropriate touching were denied, but it’s understood he admitted making a “clumsy” sexual remark, invoking a phrase by the British statement Winston Churchill in relation to the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt.

A payment of over €180,000, plus legal costs of €24,000, was made to Dr Niall Cahill, former medical director of the Student Health Centre at UL, after he was accused of bullying, which he vehemently rejected. A further 18 redundancy agreements were made, the largest of which was an individual payment of €79,518, in addition to 33 statutory payments.

A recent review of severance payments made by UL – which were subject to a Deloitte internal audit – prompted the university to call for an extraordinary meeting of Governing Authority, its highest decision making body.

It made number of recommendations for implementation, which are due to be addressed in the coming months.

But UL is not disclosing the exact details of these recommendations, as a new State review into a wide-ranging series of allegations of misconduct at UL is due to be published in the coming weeks.

The report has, however, been passed to Dr Richard Thorn, former president of Sligo Institute of Technology, who has been leading that review for a number of months.

UL's Governing Authority appointed a sub-committee to consider the recommendations and any additional steps the university executive would undertake.

“Specifically, the Deloitte internal audit examined the issues of severances, conflict of interest and further training,” stated UL president, Dr Des Fitzgerald, in a recent internal email to some staff members.

“The internal audit also examined how the university reported these matters, in particular to our regulatory agencies, the Comptroller & Auditor General and the Department of Education and Skills,” said Dr Fitzgerald.

“I believe the outcome of this exercise will be important to the university and will be central to helping resolve the issues that have arisen and furnished with the information from the audit, addressing the allegations that have made against the university," he said.

Dr Thorn has examined up to two dozen complaints made against UL by current and former staff, in a wide range of areas, but primarily in finance, human resources and governance.

He said that the legal advice sought in respect of severance packages and “whether or not it was appropriate, or overly used” has been carefully examined.

Dr Thorn confirmed the report, which runs to nearly 70 pages, will be passed to the Higher Education Authority next week.

It is expected that legal advice will be sought before the document is released publicly.

Two whistleblowers in UL's finance department currently remain suspended on full pay for 27 months.

Both refused to sign confidential severance agreements of nearly €60,000 each, after raising concerns about numerous financial matters, including the processing of expenses for some senior staff which they found to be questionable.