University of Limerick criticised over €1.7m severance deal for staff

Authorities kept in dark over pay-offs to eight employees which breached public pay policies

University of Limerick (UL) spent more than €1.7 million on severance packages for eight former employees between 2008 and 2015, according to a report published on Wednesday.

In addition, education authorities were kept in the dark over the payments which breached pay policy guidelines.

The university was heavily criticised in the report by Dr Richard Thorn which was commissioned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Department of Education into controversies surrounding its finance, human resources and governance policies.

The HEA said an investigation by Dr Thorn into “severance and rehire arrangements” would begin shortly and was intended to be concluded in a matter of weeks. Dr Thorn is a former president of Sligo Institute of Technology.


The report, which covers events between 2006 and 2017, made 36 findings and 10 recommendations to be implemented by the university.

An inquiry 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 said HR policy and procedure implementation had on occasion “lacked the consistency required of the university and that this had negative impacts on individuals”.


The report was critical of the treatment of whistleblowers including Leona O’Callaghan, a former employee in the finance department, who first raised public concerns. The review said Ms O’Callaghan’s concerns should have “been dealt with at an earlier stage”.

The HEA has written to the university requesting a “full and formal response” to the report by November 24th. The HEA is to monitor the implementation of the recommendations in it.

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

“Swift and complete implementation of the recommendations in this report by the university will enable a line to be drawn under this story and allow the university and the persons impacted to move on,” he said.

Dr Des Fitzgerald, president of UL, said the university’s new senior management team will now consider and act on the report and respond to the HEA “as quickly and comprehensively as possible”.

“Since I arrived at UL in May, I have emphasised our duty of care as an employer. This report casts light on occasions in the past where UL fell short of this standard.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent