Allegations concerning improper payments at the University of Limerick were raised in the Dáil again by Limerick deputies Niall Collins and Willie O’Dea.
Deputy Collins said he brought the matter to the attention of the Public Accounts Committee in 2012 but a number of other whistleblowers have now come into the public domain and have made a number of allegations similar to those brought to his attention in 2012.
“There is much commonality between all these allegations, but one common theme to emerge is that many people who raised their heads and queried certain payments at the University of Limerick were asked to leave,” he said.
“Many of them were paid off and removed from their jobs. In addition, many of them were asked to sign confidentiality agreements and agree to not speak about their experiences. This is quite serious, given the number of people who now have come forward into the public domain.
“In addition, other people whom I know and to whom I have spoken have not come forward. These are people of the highest integrity who have professional qualifications and are part of professional associations. Their integrity is beyond question and they also have come forward. The alarm bells are ringing, and Members must sit up and take note in this regard.”
On foot of this, he said the University of Limerick has now issued High Court proceedings against the Limerick Leader newspaper, which is quite unprecedented, and against its editor, Mr. Alan English, personally.
“I have a serious issue with this action, because a State-funded institution is using taxpayers’ money in an attempt to gag a newspaper and its editor, which are pursuing matters in the public interest that are in the public domain,” he said.
Deputy O’Dea said a number of different individuals had approached him and essentially had told him the same story, whereby people who raised their heads and raised issues about certain payments in particular were literally hounded out.
“This has happened in several cases that have been brought to my personal attention,” he said.
“It reflects a disturbing pattern of behaviour, and all the investigations that have taken place show a distinct and patent lack of independence.”
In response, Minister of State Damien English said in early 2012, a former employee of the University of Limerick informed a public representative, who in turn informed the Committee of Public Accounts, of alleged irregular practices in the finance department of the University, her attempts to rectify them and how she had been dealt with by the university.
“The issues were referred by the Committee of Public Accounts to the Secretary General of my Department and, at his request, the HEA sought the response of the university,” he said.
“The university informed the HEA that it was engaging with the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the issues and had provided all related correspondence to that office.
“The President of the University also wrote to the Committee of Public Accounts stating that the university was satisfied that it had dealt fully with the allegations made by its former employee.”
He said it was important to say that no specific allegations were made of financial irregularities in the university.
However, the employees outlined a series of events which they considered amounted to bullying and victimisation of them by management and colleagues in the university.
They stated their view that this arose because of their questioning of what they saw as irregular practices in the finance department.
Having regard to these considerations, he said the HEA, in consultation with his Department and the university, will now put in place a process of review.
The precise terms of reference will be established shortly.
“However, I stress that the review will be independent of the university’s processes and will cover how the initial inquiry into the allegations of irregular payments and the allegations of victimisation and bullying were dealt with by the university,” he said.
“A final report will be concluded by the end of November. If that is not possible, an interim report will be provided.”
O’Donovan demands accountability for TV licence fee
Full accountability with regard to the TV licence fee was demanded in the Dáil by Limerick Deputy Patrick O’Donovan.
“We need a greater level of scrutiny and oversight,” he said. “We also need a greater determination of what is considered public service broadcasting. Let me cite two examples. The Fr. Kevin Reynolds situation was a scandal because his reputation could have been absolutely destroyed. The other example concerns the debate broadcast in advance of our most recent presidential election. I was never going to give Seán Gallagher a vote and do not make any bones or apology for that. However, I believe the programme broadcast on that night played a major part in the determination of that election.”
From the point of view of a person who pays €160 for a television licence for a public broadcasting service - there is, he said no significant coverage given to the cost of the television licence in comparison with the coverage given to the cost of another commodity, namely water – but he said he was interested in ensuring the service is properly funded and regulated.