Minister criticises ‘lack of transparency’ at NUI Galway charity

Students condemn ‘wasteful and frivolous’ spending noted in Charities Regulator report

Minister of State for higher education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor has criticised a ‘lack of transparency’ around spending by a NUI Galway fundraising charity. File photograph : Laura Hutton/The Irish Times .

Minister of State for higher education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor has criticised a ‘lack of transparency’ around spending by a NUI Galway fundraising charity. File photograph : Laura Hutton/The Irish Times .

 

Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has criticised a charity linked to NUI Galway for its “lack of transparency and oversight” on spending on taxis, business class flights and five-star hotels.

The Charities Regulator’s investigation into Galway University Foundation, a charity that fundraises for the university, found it did not have adequate controls over travel expenses or credit-card based expenditure.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said she was “very disappointed” with the report’s findings. “Faith in the charity sector is vital - and we need to know we can trust any registered charity with our generosity,” she said.

NUI Galway is an exceptional university, she said, but “any charity should have higher standards of governance than this, especially one aligned with such an impactful and eminent institution” .

She also called for greater transparency and accountability regarding spending by foundations and trusts linked to third level institutions.

The regulator’s report found that the foundation spent €30,000 on taxi trips , mostly return journeys from Galway to Dublin for the former university president Dr Jim Browne. It also spent tens of thousands of euro on business class flights, often for directors’ spouses, and an average of €385 a night in luxury hotels.

NUI Galway Students’ Union said it “condemned” the foundation’s “wasteful and frivolous spending” on luxury travel at a time when students were being forced to pay for transport to off-campus exam centres.

“For commuting students, and students not familiar with the city, this is an added source of stress, and they don’t have the luxury of personalised transport to ‘ensure they are not tired and can give their best’,” union president Clare Austick said.

“The university needs to take action to reassure its many donors that their money is being used for the purposes it was donated. We are asking for a commitment from the university that this will not happen again by allowing a student representative to oversee the accounts of the board.”

Galway University Foundation said on Tuesday evening that it plans to meet with the students’ union this week.

“The foundation will update the union on the €200 million which it has raised for investment in the university and the hundreds of scholarships for students who would otherwise not have been given the opportunity to attend NUI Galway,” a spokesman said.

The foundation has also said it will provide the regulator with an update on matters raised in its report. It told the regulator that it had implemented stronger financial controls and procedures in recent yeras.

The report said the charity “appeared, in many respects, to be a well-run organisation”. But it pointed to a need for areas of improvement in justifications surrounding the use of private taxi services and an increased distinction between charitable and university business.