UCD begins talks on giving back 'illegal' pay

 

NEGOTIATIONS are under way between UCD and the Higher Education Authority about the repayment of up to €1.6 million in unauthorised allowances made to senior staff at the university.

At a budget meeting between both sides last week, UCD accepted for the first time that some of the money must be repaid. But the college, which has debts of over €11 million, wants to spread out the repayments over a lengthy period. It is also contesting the date at which payments deemed to be “illegal” began.

At a meeting of UCD’s governing authority yesterday, the college’s president, Dr Hugh Brady acknowledged that a recent meeting of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee where he was questioned about the payments, was not his most “comfortable afternoon”.

One education source said last night: “The issue is virtually resolved. The only question is tidying up the detail.”

UCD’s room for manoeuvre in the negotiations is limited as the authority may deduct the full €1.6 million from its funding for 2011. The Department of Education also insists that all illegal payments must be returned in full.

At yesterday’s UCD governing authority meeting, some members complained the first they knew of the controversy at the committee was on the RTÉ Six One Newson the day in question.

Sources said Dr Brady’s decision to pay the allowances was broadly supported by the authority yesterday, with only one objection. Dr Brady has robustly defended the payments, which he says were used to incentivise staff deemed to be performing well.

The allowances were paid over a 10-year period without the approval of the authority despite legislation which stipulates approval must be sought. A further €266,000 was paid in performance bonuses between 2005 and 2008 shared between 12 people. The academics who received the payments will not be asked to refund the payments. Instead, UCD will be forced to make the repayment.

At last month’s Dáil meeting there was a major conflict of evidence between authority chief executive Tom Boland and Mr Brady on whether UCD knew it was not allowed to make extra payments to senior staff. When pressed on why the authority had not put more pressure on UCD, Mr Boland asked: “What part of ‘no’ does UCD not understand?”

UCD maintains the authority raised no question about the allowances which were disclosed in 1999. The issue of repayment is expected to be resolved at the meeting between UCD and the authority next month. The authority may remove UCD’s governing authority as a final sanction if unauthorised funds are not repaid.