UL lifts suspension of whistleblowers whose claims sparked inquiry

University president accepts ‘serious mistakes in past’ and apologises for hurt caused

An independent report on the University of Limerick  (above) found  more than €1.7 million had been spent on severance packages for eight former employees between 2008 and 2015. File photograph: Press 22

An independent report on the University of Limerick (above) found more than €1.7 million had been spent on severance packages for eight former employees between 2008 and 2015. File photograph: Press 22

 

University of Limerick (UL) is to lift the suspension of two whistleblowers whose allegations helped spark an independent investigation into malpractice claims at the college.

The two women, who worked in the university’s finance section, have been suspended on full pay for the past two-and-a-half years.

The move follows the publication last month of an independent report which was highly critical of many of the university’s finance, human resources and governance policies.

It found that more than €1.7 million had been spent on severance packages for eight former employees between 2008 and 2015.

However, education authorities were kept in the dark over some of the payments, which breached pay policy guidelines. Some of these staff were later rehired on lucrative contracts.

The university is understood to have engaged in mediation with a third whistleblower, Leona O’Callaghan, whose allegations were vindicated in a review commissioned by the Department of Education.

Detailed response

UL this week submitted a detailed response to the Higher Education Authority outlining the steps it has taken since the report into its handling of misconduct allegations was published.

A spokeswoman for UL confirmed its new president Dr Des Fitzgerald had “accepted that the university has made serious mistakes in the past and unreservedly apologises for the hurt caused to all those affected by the issues addressed in the report”.

She also said Dr Fitzgerald had lifted the suspension of the two staff identified in the report as “persons ‘b’ and ‘c’”.

“University of Limerick has engaged the former chief executive of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey to act as mediator in relation to staff issues outlined in the report,” the spokeswoman said.

She said Mr Mulvey had already begun assisting the process and had engaged with the relevant staff.

In the response submitted by UL to the HEA, Dr Fitzgerald specifically thanked the Limerick Leader newspaper for its reporting on the issues and apologised for the “misguided legal action” taken against it and its former editor, Alan English.

She said these actions, combined with the restructuring of senior management and a streamlined governing authority, demonstrated a university that had listened and was responding to the serious issues raised about it earlier this year.

In addition, Dr Fitzgerald apologised to staff, students, alumni and the wider public for the university’s past failings.

She said UL was working hard to restore the trust of its many stakeholders, to rebuild relationships and to ensure the university was equipped to continue serving the midwest region and beyond.

Handling of proceedings

The inquiry into UL was launched last May after concerns were raised over the way the university handled a series of disciplinary proceedings against staff and the manner in which it paid severance packages to people at the centre of the allegations.

The report found that management of the severances, as well as the communication of their facts to relevant stakeholders, was “confusing”.

It found that HR policy and procedure implementation “lacked the consistency required of the university, and that this had negative impacts on individuals”.

Following the publication of last month’s report, the Higher Education Authority wrote to the university requesting a “full and formal response” to the report by November 24th.

HEA chief executive Dr Graham Love said at the time that there had been “much stress for many parties involved”.