Former Waterford IT president loses case over failure to reappoint him

No WIT governing body member told Prof Byrne he would be reappointed, judge said

WIT denied any wrongdoing and said the governing body’s decision not to reappoint him was done following a fully transparent process. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

WIT denied any wrongdoing and said the governing body’s decision not to reappoint him was done following a fully transparent process. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

 

A former president of Waterford Institute of Technology, Prof Kieran Byrne, has lost his High Court action over the college’s governing body’s decision not to reappoint him to the post.

In his judgment on Tuesday, Mr Justice Senan Allen rejected Prof Byrne’s claim he was entitled to be reappointed as WIT president in 2011.

No member of WIT’s governing body, whose function was to select a new president, had ever told Prof Byrne he would be reappointed to the post, the judge said.

While Prof Byrne claimed he had been informed by a member of the selection board and the public appointments board he had been selected, the professor could not have legitimately believed those parties spoke for WIT’s governing body, he said.

The judge also did not accept Prof Byrne’s argument that the governing body was not entitled to have regard to freedom of information requests concerning alleged expenditure by the president’s office during Prof Byrne’s tenure.

Prof Byrne was appointed WIT president in 2001 for 10 years. In 2011 a subcommittee of WIT’s governing body was set up to oversee selection of president from May 2011 and it recommended Prof Byrne’s reappointment for another five years.

That recommendation was not ratified by WIT’s governing body at a meeting on May 12th 2011 and the position was readvertised.

It was claimed the decision not to reappoint Prof Byrne as WIT president was taken after a newspaper published an article concerning the level of expenditure of the WIT president’s office during his tenure. The article referred to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

During a six-day hearing against WIT, Prof Byrne, of Dunmore Road, Waterford, alleged failure to conduct the selection process properly. He claimed he was entitled to be reappointed and WIT had acted in breach of constitutional justice and fair procedures. He also sought damages for alleged negligence, breach of contract, damage to his good name, breach of legitimate expectation and misrepresentation.

WIT denied any wrongdoing and said the governing body’s decision not to reappoint him was done following a fully transparent process. It also denied it had represented to Prof Byrne he had been reappointed and said it was entitled to take the claims in the media reports into account when considering the appointment.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Allen said it was Prof Byrne’s case he was entitled to be reappointed and that WIT’s governing body was not entitled to do anything other than ratify his appointment. The issue was whether, at the end of the selection process, WIT’s governing body was bound to appoint Prof Byrne.

The judge held the function of appointing a president of WIT is a function of the governing body. The subcommittee which had recommended Prof’s Byrne’s reappointment was not established to appoint the new president but only to oversee the process, he said. Even if Prof Byrne had mistakenly assumed he would be re-appointed, there was no evidence put before the court the governing body proceeded on the same mistaken assumption, the judge said.

No matter what happened, Prof Byrne was always going to be disappointed if not reappointed and, in circumstances in which he had come to expect to be reappointed, his disappointment was greatly compounded by embarrassment, he said. Whatever was said to make the plaintiff believe he would be reappointed was not something the governing body or the public appointments service was responsible for, he found.