Oireachtas report: Willie O’Dea raises continued plight of UL whistleblowers

Tim Ryan

Reporter:

Tim Ryan

Oireachtas report: O’Dea raises continued plight of UL whistleblowers

THE plight of two female employees of the University of Limerick, who have spent the last number of years on half pay and in receipt of social welfare payments was raised in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil deputy Willie O’Dea.

These are dedicated, hard-working and courageous women who performed their duties in an exemplary manner, he said.

“One might well ask what nefarious crime they committed to find themselves in this unfortunate situation?” he said. “They blew the whistle on blatant wrongdoing and exposed wasteful, wrongful and wanton expenditure of taxpayers' money.”

Deputy O’Dea said the women have been vindicated by a number of independent reports, they have been vindicated by the Comptroller and Auditor General and, importantly and perhaps astonishingly, they have been vindicated by their employer.

“On 23 November 2017 and on 15 March 2018, the University of Limerick acknowledged that their suspension between 2015 and 2017 was wrong,” he said.

“It went on to apologise for describing their complaint as malicious. Last year the university wrote to these employees thanking them for bringing important matters to the attention of the university and recognising their courage in doing so, courage which it said was greatly valued. Despite this, they are still suspended.”

He said it makes a mockery of the whistleblowing process for which the Government claims so much kudos for introducing.

In response, the Minister for Education & Skills, Joe McHugh said arising from a report into the matter, the university embarked on a process of mediation, led by Mr. Kieran Mulvey, former head of the Workplace Relations Commission, with a number of the individuals referenced in the report in an effort to reach a satisfactory resolution of their issues.

“The two staff members referred to by the Deputy were included in this mediation process, during which the university engaged with them to facilitate their return to work,” he said.

“However, my understanding is that mutually acceptable employment positions could not be agreed to between the parties. The mediation process in respect of the two staff members was unable to reach a satisfactory outcome and has now ended.”

Minister McHugh said the issue was most recently discussed at a meeting between the president of the University of Limerick and the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills.

At the meeting the president outlined the position on the steps that had been taken to facilitate the return to work of the two persons referred to by the Deputy.

“The president also outlined the university’s desire to ensure the issue would be resolved as quickly as possible and requested the assistance of the Department in that regard,” he said.

“It is the view of the HEA and the Department that the issues raised by both persons have been fully investigated at this point.

“The one issue that remains to be resolved is the return to work of the two individuals concerned. It is primarily an employee-employer issue and I hope the university and the two individuals can agree on a mutually satisfactory outcome that will see these staff members return to the workplace as soon as possible.”

Assurance given on 60 modular beds for UHL

Recent scaremongering about new beds for University Hospital Limerick was raised in the Upper House by Senator Maria Byrne.

She said the Minister for Health indicated that he realises that University Hospital Limerick has been neglected for quite a while with regard to the need for additional beds and the issues colouring his visit.

“He acknowledged the issues there,” she said. “He has committed to providing 60 modular beds, which are to start this year and not in 2020 as has been suggested.”

The Minister has been quite clear in his message that the 60 beds are going to be mentioned in the capital plan, even though the capital plan has not yet come forward to be signed off on, she said.

“It will happen in two phases, with enabling works and then building works,” she said.

“The process may take anything up to ten months. The delay was because there was an objection to An Bord Pleanála during the planning process but this has now been resolved.

“I am glad to say that there is planning permission in place but it is important to get the message out that the 60 modular beds will be delivered. The work will start this year and will be completed either before the end of this year or early in 2020.”

This was most important, she said, because some Deputies were speaking about this on many local radio stations in the Mid-West.

“It caused major upset to people living in the area,” she said.

“I had many calls to my office. I heard from one lady who was very distraught.”