UCD may have to give back €1.6m allowances


PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE:THE DEPARTMENT of Education may ask UCD to repay unauthorised allowances of up to €1.6 million made to senior staff, the Public Accounts Committee has heard.

The allowances were paid over a 10-year period without the approval of the Higher Education Authority despite legislation which stipulates approval must be sought.

There was a major conflict of evidence between the chief executive of the authority, Tom Boland, and Hugh Brady, president of the university, 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 paid almost €1.6 million in unauthorised allowances to staff over a 10-year period.

A further €266,000 was paid in performance bonuses between 2005 and 2008 shared between 12 people.

Dr Brady said the payments had “a long history” and were made for substantial added management duties similar to the payments made to principals in primary and secondary schools.

They were also the norm internationally, he said.

Details of all the allowances were disclosed back to 1999 and “approval was a mere formality” until 2007.

When the issue was raised, he phased them out, but could not do so instantly because of contractual duties. The matter was finally resolved in March 2009. “We weren’t told to stop,” Dr Brady said.

But Mr Boland said the first correspondence on the files to universities regarding the payment of unauthorised allowances was in 2001, when the authority indicated they should not be paid.

At the time they were aware of a small number of such allowances, but assumed the situation would be regularised and the law “would be abided by”. In 2005, the authority became aware of a significant increase in such allowances in UCD. He quoted from a letter to UCD in 2006, which said paying the allowances was contrary to legislation and outside the powers of the university.

Kevin McCarthy, assistant secretary at the Department of Education and Skills, said he agreed with the authority. At all stages it was clear that all forms of payments were subject to sanction, he said.

Fianna Fáil deputy Michael McGrath said there was clearly a conflict of evidence between the authority and UCD.

Labour Party deputy Róisín Shortall asked why the situation had drifted for so long.

Mr Boland ruled out the removal of the governing body at the university because of the unauthorised payments, saying it would be “disproportionate”, but he did warn that there could be consequences for the university and it was possible it could be compelled to pay the money back.