UL president to tell PAC she is ‘keen to draw a line under the controversies’ of past

Public Accounts Committee meeting to examine the university’s 2020 accounts

The President of the University of Limerick (UL), Prof Kerstin Mey will tell TDs she is "keen to draw a line under the controversies of the past" when she appears at a meeting of the Dáil's public spending watchdog.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is meeting on Thursday to examine UL's 2020 accounts.

TDs will also quiz UL representatives on issues raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) including procurement that did not comply with State spending rules and the purchase of a site for a city centre campus.

Speaking ahead of the meeting PAC chairman Brian Stanley said the C&AG certified the 2020 accounts with an unqualified audit opinion but he "also drew attention to a number of issues that were disclosed in the annual statement of governance."

The Sinn Féin TD said this includes "a significant level of procurement non-compliance" and "the ongoing investigation of concerns raised about the purchase in 2019 of a former Dunnes Stores site for UL's city centre campus". He said the PAC would examine these and other issues.

Ms Mey is expected to be joined at the meeting by former tánaiste Mary Harney – now UL's chancellor – and Gary Butler, the university's chief financial and performance officer.

The UL president’s opening statement says: “The past number of years have been very difficult reputationally for the University and for that reason I hope you will understand that I am very keen to draw a line under the controversies of the past.”

Ms Mey will offer an assurance to the PAC – as she has to the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Further & Higher Education – "that I am willing to take all necessary steps to achieve that goal".

Ms Mey will say: “It is a great privilege to serve as president of UL and I am immensely proud of the university, its staff and students.”

‘Room for improvement’

On the procurement issue Ms Mey will say that there has been “a sustained reduction in the percentage of such expenditure deemed non-compliant” and “in the relevant period, non-compliance was 0.6 per cent, which is two-thirds lower than the prevailing rate in the sector (1.8 per cent).”

She will say UL is “one of the leading institutions in relation to procurement compliance” but will add: “There is still room for improvement, and I have outlined a number of further and better controls that we have put in place, which will identify any future inadvertent, or indeed any deliberate breach of public procurement protocols.”

It has previously been reported that last December, UL had €1.7 million out of €2.5 million in capital funding withheld from the Department of Higher Education over concerns about its financial governance, including recent allegations it had paid twice the market value in acquiring the old Dunnes Stores site in Limerick city centre for €8 million in 2019 and that no independent valuation had been sought prior to the purchase.

Ms Mey’s statement to the PAC says: “I am well aware that the Committee has been particularly concerned to understand the circumstances which gave rise to the University’s acquisition of the former Dunnes Stores site for the sum of €8.343 million.”

She adds: "KPMG was commissioned to conduct a review, which is complete but is now subject to legal challenge. We are working with our legal advisers to try and unblock impediments to publication."

Ms Mey says: "I appreciate that this is still a very live issue. However, I hope the Committee would permit me to draw a distinction between the process by which the property was acquired, arising from which the Governing Authority commissioned the KPMG review; and the enormous civic potential of this strategic site in the centre of Limerick city on the banks of the Shannon, which gives me cause for great optimism about the future of our city centre campus."