University of Limerick settles with whistleblower who raised first concerns

Alan English

Reporter:

Alan English

Former UL employee Leona O'Callaghan

Former UL employee Leona O'Callaghan

THE University of Limerick has agreed a settlement with Leona O’Callaghan, a former member of its finance department who said her position became unsustainable after she questioned expenses claimed by senior UL staff, including the delivery of a fitted kitchen.

Ms O’Callaghan met the UL president, Dr Des Fitzgerald, this Wednesday, following earlier discussions with Kieran Mulvey, a mediator appointed by the university to deal with a series of long-running staff issues.

Mr Mulvey, the former chief executive of the Workplace Relations Commission, recommended that a payment be made to Ms O’Callaghan in the light of the Thorn report, which was critical of HR and finance practices at UL over a number of years.

In 2011, Ms O’Callaghan wrote to the former UL president, Dr Don Barry, setting out her concerns in detail. On leaving UL the following year, she provided the same information to the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC).

Shortly afterwards, Dr Barry told the PAC that any concerns raised by Ms O’Callaghan had been “fully dealt with”, but that “despite this, the employee continues to make the same allegations”.

Writing in the Limerick Leader this week, Ms O’Callaghan says: “I never made any false allegations. Honesty is hugely important to me and that caused me a lot of hurt.” She confirmed that she had accepted a personal apology made by Dr Fitzgerald, as well as the terms of a settlement agreement recommended by Mr Mulvey “in the interests of fairness and equitable treatment”.

“It’s not a life-changing amount of money by any stretch,” she said, following her meeting with the president. “I was not a high earner at UL and it’s basically a year and a half’s salary.” However, in her article for the Leader she writes that “hearing a representative of the university own the hurt that was caused to me helped a lot in the healing process of moving on.”

Ms O’Callaghan also stated that while she is “finally moving on”, she is conscious that others remain in dispute with UL, particularly the women known as Persons B and C who were suspended from their jobs in the finance department for more than two years. They also highlighted spending they regarded as inappropriate.

While their suspensions were lifted by Dr Fitzgerald last November, the employees remain in dispute with UL over their treatment.

Their story, first reported in the Limerick Leader in September 2015, was the catalyst for a number of reports into different matters at UL.

Last November’s Thorn report was sharply critical of HR and management practices at UL and Dr Fitzgerald pledged then to implement all of its recommendations in full. Changes to UL’s management structure and governing authority have already been introduced.

However, Persons B and C were unhappy that the Thorn report contained no negative findings about how their own cases were handled. Writing to the PAC, they accused UL of seeking to create the impression that all of their problems arose from “interpersonal difficulties”.

They also stated that they were “shocked” by the finding of the report’s author, Richard Thorn, that they were “unwise” to pursue a garda complaint against a work colleague who, they allege, threatened them at a Christmas party in 2014.

While Persons B and C issued High Court proceedings against UL in November, it is understood that they have also met with Mr Mulvey.

He is expected to make recommendations to them and UL about a potential way forward, which may include reinstatement or redeployment.

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