Former president of Waterford IT claiming damages over failure to reappoint him

Prof Kieran Byrne claims decision taken after article published on expenditure of president’s office during his tenure

A subcommittee of Waterford IT’s governing body set up to oversee the selection of president from May 2011 onwards had recommended Prof Kieran Byrne be reappointed for another five years but that recommendation was not ratified by the college’s governing body, the High court heard. File  photograph: Paddy Whelan

A subcommittee of Waterford IT’s governing body set up to oversee the selection of president from May 2011 onwards had recommended Prof Kieran Byrne be reappointed for another five years but that recommendation was not ratified by the college’s governing body, the High court heard. File photograph: Paddy Whelan

 

The former president of Waterford Institute of Technology has claimed before the High Court he was humiliated and his reputation damaged after the college’s governing body declined to reappoint him to the post.

The decision not to reappoint Prof Kieran Byrne was taken after a newspaper published an article concerning the level of expenditure of the WIT president’s office during his tenure.

Prof Byrne has brought proceedings against WIT seeking damages and various declarations.

WIT denies any wrongdoing and argues its governing body’s decision not to reappoint him was done following a fully transparent process.

Opening the case Ercus Stewart SC, with Elaine Power BL, for Prof Byrne, said his client was appointed WIT president in 2001 for ten years.

A subcommittee of WIT’s governing body set up to oversee the selection of president from May 2011 onwards had recommended Prof Byrne be reappointed for another five years but that recommendation was not ratified by WIT’s governing body at a meeting on May 12th 2011, counsel said.

He said an article had appeared in April 2011 in the Irish Examiner newspaper about expenses incurred by the Office of President of WIT and referred to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

A meeting of the governing body of WIT, where Prof Byrne was due to be ratified, took place the day after the article appeared, he said.

There was “disquiet” about the media report, the decision to ratify his appointment was deferred and Prof Byrne was subsequently informed an independent review of the expenditure was to take place.

It has always been Prof Byrne’s case the accounting methods used in responding to the FOI request were “unorthodox” and resulted in inaccurate records of expenditure, counsel said.

Before the governing body meeting of May 2011 his client was encouraged to resign by a member of the Higher Education Authority but refused to do so, counsel said.

On May 12th, the governing body declined to ratify Prof Byrne as WIT president for another five years and the position was advertised. Prof Byrne remained on as a member of WIT’s management but felt he had been treated in a humiliating and disrespectful manner by the institute and exercised his option to retire, counsel said.

WIT, represented by Mark Connaughton SC and Tom Mallon BL, deny the claims. Mr Connaughton said the reappointment decision was always the governing body’s and it acted at all times in a transparent manner during the selection process.

It was accepted the media reports were considered by the governing body but it was also not happy with the applications received for such an important post and opted to expand the recruitment process, he said.

In reply to Mr Justice Senan Allen, counsel accepted the media report concerning the expenditure of the president’s office was something the defendant took into account when arriving at its decision.

In his proceedings against WIT, Prof Byrne, Leoville, Dunmore Road, Waterford, has alleged failure to conduct the selection process properly.

WIT failed to have any regard that no internal or external audit was critical of his presidency of WIT and it also failed to heed his concerns about the accounting methods used to respond to the FOI requests, he claims.

He claims failure to allow him make representations to the governing body about the media coverage and the FOI requests and that WIT acted in breach of constitutional justice and fair procedures.

He also seeks damages on grounds including alleged negligence, breach of contract and damage to his good name.

The case continues.