FIANNA Fail deputy Willie O’Dea is encouraging any current or former University of Limerick employees to come forward and inform an independent review of “any injustices done against them.”
The Limerick TD has welcomed that draft terms of reference for the review have been outlined by the Higher Education Authority into allegations regarding irregular financial practices at UL, and the treatment of employees who raised their concerns.
Deputy O’Dea told the Limerick Leader that he is aware of a number of other people, in addition to the three whistleblowers who have aired their concerns, “who are anxious to tell their story” if they are permitted to do so within the confines of the review.
Deputy O’Dea said while the terms of the review “appear wide enough on the surface, I hope they are not narrowly interpreted. Justice will have to be seen to be done now”.
Furthermore, he said he was disappointed to learn from the Minister of Education Jan O’Sullivan that UL does not intend to drop its legal proceedings against the Limerick Leader and its editor Alan English until after the review has concluded.
“I don’t think it’s right that a review should be conducted while legal proceedings are hanging over a newspaper and its editor. I’m quite unhappy about that. Third-level institutions are complaining about lack of funds, but yet there seems to be plenty of money to pay Arthur Cox [law firm].”
He said he agreed with the National Union of Journalists that there are other avenues of redress open to UL, such as the Press Ombudsman and Press Council, to address matters originally published in this newspaper, rather than “reaching for the bazooka straight away”.
The HEA confirmed that Mazars, their internal auditors, will conduct the review, which is expected to be completed by November 30.
One whistleblower who made allegations regarding expenses in UL, and other financial matters, has been assured by the HEA that the review will be “completely independent” and that Mazars has no current relationship with UL, nor have they served as their auditors in the past.
“We believe that they will bring the financial and HR expertise required to ensure a comprehensive and robust review of the allegations, with their experience in undertaking similar investigations of this kind ensuring an understanding of the sensitivities involved in handling the matters appropriately,” said a spokesperson for the HEA in correspondence with one of the complainants.
While the review is primarily concerned with the allegations raised by three individuals, the HEA also outlined that “any current and past employees who feel they could contribute to the review will be given an opportunity to do so”.
The HEA also said that anyone who signed confidentiality agreements with UL can come forward in respect of this review, and that no action will be taken against them by UL.
The review team will report directly to the HEA and they will remain in close liaison with the Minister of Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan and her department.
The findings will be made public on conclusion of the review.
The HEA said it does not envisage that Revenue, Social Welfare and the Rights Commissioner will be involved in this review but the reviewer will certainly have the right to seek input from these bodies if required, it added.
The exact terms of reference state that a review will be conducting into the following matters: “The process employed by the University of Limerick to inquire into allegations made by Person A of irregular practices both in the making of payments and in their authorisation by the Finance Department which were the subject of a report to the Comptroller and Auditor General from the University on 27 April 2012;
“The process employed by the University to inquire into: (a) the allegations of Person A; and (b) the allegations made by Person B and Person C.” A final report will be made to the HEA by November 30 next.
In the event that it is not practical to make a final report by this date, an interim report shall be provided. The review arises after an article was published in the Limerick Leader last month, which detailed the claims of two UL employees, who are currently suspended, in relation to financial matters.
The HEA is expected to confirm this week the means by which those who wish to contribute to the review can make contact, confidentially, with representatives of Mazars.