THE Higher Education Authority has announced the terms of reference of an independent review to be conducted into allegations regarding irregular financial practices at the University of Limerick, and the treatment of employees who raised their concerns.
The authority has confirmed that Mazars, the current internal auditors of the HEA, 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.
The Limerick Leader is awaiting a reply from the HEA regarding its own questions on the review.
While the review is primarily concerned with the allegations raised by three individuals, they 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 TD 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 as set out in Appendix 2; and (b) the allegations made by Person B and Person C as set out in Appendix 3.”
A final report will be made to the chief executive of the HEA, Tom Boland, 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.
Deputies Niall Collins and Willie O’Dea earlier welcomed confirmation in the Dail that an independent review of these allegations will go ahead.
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 alleged inappropriate payment of expenses and their treatment by UL as a result of raising concerns.
A third person in the same department, who also brought similar concerns to the Public Accounts Committee in 2012, has now spoken out in support of those women, one of whom was her direct replacement.
UL has strenuously disputed all allegations, and has welcomed the review. The University urged the HEA to bring this review to a prompt conclusion and has said it looks forward to assisting it.
UL has said that the two employees at the centre of the Leader’s story were found to have made malicious’ claims, according to an independent investigator.
The employees reject this, and since their suspension this June they have been unable to access their internal system in UL to further substantiate their claims.
Deputy O’Dea said that in addition to the cases that have been brought to deputy Niall Collins’ attention, “a number of additional people have come to me, with essentially the same story.
“If people raise their heads and raise their issues, particularly about certain payments, then they are literally hounded out,” he said.
“It has happened in several cases that have been brought to my personal attention. This reflects a very, very disturbing pattern of behaviour indeed and all the investigations that have taken place, the internal university investigations, and the circumstances surrounding these cases, where people have to leave, show a patent lack of independence, ” he said.
Deputy Collins said there is a “lot of commonality with all these allegations”, in terms of those brought to his attention in 2012, and other more recent allegations.