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UL inquiry examines €150,000 payment to lecturer over ‘inappropriate touching’

Former staff member alleged to have made sexual references in class

University of Limerick: Its new president is understood to have pledged in recent days to make sweeping changes at senior levels. Photograph: Press 22

An independent inquiry into misconduct allegations at University of Limerick (UL) is likely to include the circumstances surrounding the payment of €150,000 to a former lecturer alleged to have inappropriately touched students.

The former staff member was the subject of three formal complaints from students, who referred to “inappropriate sexual references” in class and “inappropriate touching”, according to correspondence from UL to the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee.

The complaints were made in December 2013 which led to the university appointing an external investigator to examine the complaints.

The former member of staff, who rejected the allegations, left the university as part of a disciplinary process.

However, correspondence shows there was a €150,000 “compromise agreement” between the college and the former staff member.

The university was unable to say on Tuesday whether the Garda had any role in investigating the allegations.

A spokesman for UL declined to comment beyond what had been outlined in official correspondence to the committee.

Independent inquiry

The case has come to light as the Department of Education prepares the terms of reference for an independent inquiry into allegations of misconduct at the university.

The allegations broadly relate to the treatment of three staff or former employees who raised concerns over irregular expenses claims and made complaints over bullying.

However, many other allegations over human resource practices and treatment of staff or individuals are also likely to feature in the inquiry, which is due to be headed by the former director of an institute of technology.

The university has previously insisted it dealt with all allegations appropriately through its internal processes. Between 2007 and 2017, the university dealt with a total of 24 formal complaints under its “dignity and respect” policies.

The investigation of these complaints cost the university just over €221,000 in “facilitation processes” and “external investigations”. This sum does not include settlement payments which, in some cases, were substantial.

For example, one of the cases concerns an individual at UL who was at the centre of a complaint and was paid €200,000 as part of another “compromise agreement”.

The individual, who was contracted as a service provider by the college, was the subject of a complaint by a person engaged by the university. The same individual then went on to make a formal complaint against their line manager in December 2013.

In October the following year, the university commenced a disciplinary process based on the findings of an independent investigation. This led to a compromise agreement of €209,600 which terminated the university’s relationship with the individual.

New president

While the university has previously rejected calls for an independent inquiry into allegations of misconduct at the college, the college’s new president has quickly reversed its position.

Dr Des Fitzgerald, who took over as president last week, is understood to have contacted the secretary general of the Department of Education on his first day in his new role to say an independent review of the allegations was warranted.

The new president is understood to have pledged in recent days to make sweeping changes at senior levels to ensure the college has effective management and governance systems in place.

He also told the department that he hoped an independent investigation would help protect the good name of the university and allow the college to focus on developing its academic reputation.

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