UCD refuses to refund €1.6m paid 'unlawfully' to staff

 

UCD IS refusing to refund €1.6 million paid in “unlawful” allowances to senior academic staff despite pressure from the Department of Education, the Department of Finance and the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

It is understood UCD president Dr Hugh Brady has warned the HEA that any attempt to impose a financial sanction on the university may be “illegal, inappropriate and discriminatory”.

A major standoff has now developed between the two sides, despite months of negotiations between the HEA and UCD vice-president Dr Philip Nolan on the issue.

UCD says it remains anxious to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

This morning, HEA chief executive Tom Boland will brief the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on the dispute.

The HEA is under pressure to impose sanctions on UCD after Labour Party TD Róisín Shortall accused it of adopting a “softly-softly approach” to the issue at a meeting last September.

It was at this meeting that the issue of a financial sanction on UCD was first raised by the Department of Finance.

In recent weeks, Dr Brady has told the HEA that any such move would be “dubious legally . . . counterproductive and inappropriate”.

UCD claims that the additional payments were funded from non-exchequer income. It says the incentives offered to senior staff since 2007 allowed UCD to generate an additional €50-80 million per year.

It also says it is happy to furnish the HEA with evidence to support its stance.

UCD also maintains any sanction would be discriminatory as similar allowances were paid at DCU and UCC.

Dr Brady also warns the HEA that a financial sanction risks compromising student services at the university.

The Department of Education and the Department of Finance insist that all “unlawful” payments must be returned in full.

The €1.6 million in alleged unlawful allowances were paid over a 10-year period without the approval of the HEA.

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

At September’s Dáil committee meeting there was a major conflict of evidence between Mr Boland and Dr 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 claims that the authority raised no question about the allowances, which were disclosed in 1999.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General details five-figure sums paid as allowances to more than 80 other staff in UCD.

Five vice-presidents, four college principals, 13 college vice-principals, 41 heads of schools and 18 directors of institutes received allowances of €15,000 to €25,000.