University of Limerick opens inquiry into €8m site acquisition

Former Dunnes Stores development land in city at centre of Dáil Pac meeting on oversight

UL management conceded that despite seeking and paying about €10,000 for a valuation of the property, it had no copy on file.

UL management conceded that despite seeking and paying about €10,000 for a valuation of the property, it had no copy on file.

 

The University of Limerick has set in train an investigation into its controversial €8 million purchase of a former Dunnes Stores development site in the city.

At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) on Thursday, its management conceded that despite seeking and paying about €10,000 for a valuation of the property, it had no copy on file.

The transaction was completed in 2019 and the property, which lies close to the river at the city’s Sarsfield Bridge, was earmarked for the development of a campus.

However, governance concerns have been identified surrounding oversight of the purchase along with other issues. And following a two-hour examination of matters at the committee, Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said he believed “we have made no progress”.

Independent TD for Wexford Verona Murphy said it was “not credible” that no record would exist of any university meetings where the valuation of the site was discussed.

“From a commercial transaction perspective of using public funded monies, it isn’t credible to say that there could be no written record [of an] evaluation of millions or euros,” she said.

Pac chairman Brian Stanley said even if a company wanted to change its fire extinguishers it would secure two quotes to be presented to its board of management.

In her opening statement Prof Kerstin Mey, who was appointed interim president last September, acknowledged there had been “some recent speculation” around the purchase and that there was no formal valuation on file.

“The governing authority have (sic) asked KPMG to conduct an independent review of the governance around that purchase and we will share the outcomes of that review with the committee when it concludes,” she said.

Internal emails

Under further questioning Prof Mey said the process used to appoint the person to manage the Dunnes Stores deal was “non-compliant” with procurement rules and that this had been notified to the Comptroller & Auditor General.

The university’s chief corporate officer Andrew Flaherty said there was some record of the valuation process in internal emails.

However, Ms Murphy said that at some point, in order to establish credibility, the committee would have to be given an outline of the history of the transaction, aside from the KPMG governance report.

On a separate issue, Prof Mey’s statement to the committee outlined ongoing interactions with two UL whistleblowers.

“There was a lot of discussion about the plight of two members of staff who had identified as whistleblowers,” she said in her statement. “I can confirm that we have reached agreement on one individual and the matter is completely resolved with approval from the department.”

Although the second individual had agreed terms, tax liability concerns had delayed the process, she said.