University of Limerick review based on at least a dozen allegations
College’s governance, human resources and financial practices to be examined
Two suspended whistleblowers in UL’s finance department said they were looking forward to co-operating fully with the review. Photograph: Press 22
At least a dozen protected disclosures or allegations are likely to form the basis of an independent review into allegations of misconduct at University of Limerick.
The Department of Education has outlined the terms of reference for the reviews which will focus on governance, human resources and financial practices at the college.
A total of six protected disclosures have been made by current and former staff of UL to the Higher Education Authority along as well as a litany of other allegations.
They include at least three former employees who say they had raised various concerns and were given severance packages worth more than €600,000.
A number of former UL staff are understood to be seeking assurances from the department that no legal action will be taken against them if they outline their grievances to the review, having signed six-figure confidential settlements.
The department has given assurances that any information received from those who have signed confidential severance agreements with UL will be treated with the “utmost confidence” by the new review.
“Each case will be treated with the utmost confidence by the investigator who will endeavour to the largest extent possible to provide the assurances sought,” a spokesperson said.
The independent review, to be led by Dr Richard Thorn, former president of Sligo Institute of Technology, will commence in the coming weeks.
While the university had rejected calls for an independent review of allegations of misconduct at the college, the college’s new president has quickly reversed its position.
Dr Des Fitzgerald, who took over as president recently, is understood to have contacted the secretary general of the department on his first day in his new role to say an independent review of the allegations was warranted.
Among those who have made protected disclosures include a former UL lecturer who received a €150,000 settlement, after complaints that he inappropriately touched students and made inappropriate sexual remarks. He made a protected disclosure to the HEA after signing a confidentiality clause with UL.
Another disclosure by a member of the public to the HEA alleged that a person employed in UL’s graduate medical school had previously been dismissed from employment in a local hospital “due to serious clinical concerns and probity issues”.
In its response, UL advised that the allegations against the person concerned were being reviewed by the HSE and that his employment in the university did not involve contact with patients. It advised that there were no complaints against the person in question in his role as a tutor.
‘Poor HR management’
The HEA said other allegations against UL are “broadly linked by a common theme of poor HR management practice within the university”, including disciplinary proceedings against staff and the use of confidentiality agreements.
These included promotion procedures, the recruitment of an existing employee as a contractor, a complaint from a staff member that he was given sabbatical leave after raising issues and concerns, and complaints regarding a number of confidential, severance agreements.
Two suspended whistleblowers in UL’s finance department said they were looking forward to co-operating fully with the review, which will examine governance, human resources and financial practices and procedures at UL. They will have been suspended on full pay for two years next month.
A UL spokesperson said the announcement of the review follows a call by the new president of the university, Dr Des Fitzgerald, for the department to oversee an independent review of all the issues.
He said UL welcomed the independence of this process and wishes to see a review that is sufficiently comprehensive to provide answers to all of the matters.
“UL has many important stakeholders – its students, its staff, its graduates, its industry and community partners – but the most important stakeholder is the general public both in the mid-west and nationally,” the spokesman said.
“UL has an excellent reputation and that reputation is critical to the social and economic reputation of the immediate region it serves.”