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UL president’s move to new post raises questions about property cost debacle

Prof Kerstin Mey not leaving university but changing to senior academic role

Prof Kerstin Mey: University of Limerick has postgraduate degree programmes in accounting and finance. The disastrous property deal in 2022 she oversaw stands as a case study in financial mismanagement. Photograph: Sean Curtin/True Media

Prof Kerstin Mey’s resignation as University of Limerick (UL) president comes just under three years into what was supposed to be a 10-year term.

Far from leaving UL, however, the German art historian will move to a senior academic post in September. This raises obvious questions as to whether she has been held to account fully for a disastrous property deal in 2022 that led UL to serious financial loss and huge reputational damage.

Asked whether Prof Mey would receive any severance or compensation payment for the loss of the highest office in the university, UL had no comment. It is understood, however, that no such payment will be made.

University of Limerick president Kerstin Mey to resignOpens in new window ]

For its part, the Department of Public Expenditure said it had not received any UL request under Circular 9 of 2018, the policy document that covers any discretionary severance payment in the civil and public service.

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On the face of it, this avoids a repeat of the situation in the Health Service Executive where a €389,000 payment was approved for a departing senior executive in February. In the past five years, the HSE paid more than €3.1 million in exit, severance or redundancy payments to 17 former personnel.

Still, UL will be counting the cost for some time to come of a bungled student housing transaction scheme in which it overpaid €5.2 million for 20 student homes. The houses at Rhebogue, some 3km from UL, cost more than €11 million.

University of Limerick student housing scheme went ahead despite concerns, PAC hearsOpens in new window ]

Extraordinarily, this was not UL’s first property blunder. The university will separately take a €3 million charge in its next accounts because it overspent in 2019 on a former Dunnes Stores site for a new Limerick city campus.

That alone might have been expected to prompt heightened UL scrutiny of any further property ventures. But the need to get it right at Rhebogue was all the greater still because it came in the year after Prof Mey took office as permanent president in 2021.

She had been at UL since 2018, when she became vice-president for academic affairs and student engagement and professor of visual culture. She became interim president in 2020. When the Dunnes site deal was done five years ago she was already in UL’s upper echelon. What is more, problems with the Dunnes purchase had already surfaced when the Rhebogue contract was signed in August 2022.

University of Limerick faces threat to funding after botched housing projectOpens in new window ]

Despite all that, there was no evidence of heightened due diligence. Quite the contrary. A confidential report for UL by former civil servant Niamh O’Donoghue said the university lacked “correct and clear” information on Rhebogue costs before pressing ahead with the deal. That’s a basic requirement.

Questions abound about the Rhebogue scheme. In a university with postgraduate degree programmes in accounting and finance, the deal stands as a case study in financial mismanagement.