University of Limerick whistleblowers ‘very genuine’, says Bruton

Offer of severance packages to two whistleblowers among ‘issues that have be reviewed’

Minister for Education Richard Bruton: “very impressed” with whistleblowers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Education Richard Bruton: “very impressed” with whistleblowers. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said he believes the University of Limerick whistleblowers who have made allegations over financial practices are “very genuine”.

Mr Bruton was speaking in Limerick following the announcement that there will be a full independent inquiry into the treatment of those who raised concerns into financial practices at the university.

He said he was “very impressed” with the whistleblowers following a recent meeting with the three female employees, who all worked in the university’s finance department.

An external investigator, Mazars consultants, was appointed by the Higher Education Authority to examine the claims.

The women were found to have legitimately raised concerns about inappropriate expense claims they were asked to process. One of those individuals has left the university, while two remain suspended with pay for nearly two years.

Among the claims were that certain senior staff received mileage payments for journeys between their homes and the university, along with expenses claims for irregular items, including the delivery of a fitted kitchen for one relocating staff member, having been approved.

Mr Bruton said while the terms of reference of the inquiry have yet to be announced, he would welcome other whistleblowers in coming forward.

Full inquiry

The inquiry, he said, is a “joint initiative” with the university, which announced its new president, Desmond Fitzgerald, had sought a full inquiry on Tuesday, on his first day of taking office.

Mr Bruton said the inquiry is needed to “put the university on a very strong footing for the future”.

“The correct approach is to have an independent review, because I believe UL is one of the jewels in the crown of our university sector,” he said.

Mr Bruton said severance packages of nearly €60,000 each offered to both suspended employees will be “amongst issues which will have be reviewed”.

Following the earlier review by Mazars, which outlined a series of recommendations to the university in terms of its policies and procedures, he said the inquiry is now necessary “to ensure practices in the future are robust and beyond question.”

In a statement released on Friday morning, the university said it invited the department to undertake an independent review of a number of areas of governance.

“The new UL president wants to ensure the full confidence of the Department of Education and other stakeholders and so took the decision to invite an independent review of issues this week,” the statement said. “The university looks forward to working closely with the review process.

“Questions raised at the PAC last month and by the department itself need to be addressed and clarified so that the reputation of UL and the region it serves can move forward with the full confidence of its many stakeholders.”