UCD's 'unlawful' payments now estimated at €6m


UCD MADE unauthorised payments of approximately €6 million to staff that will have to be refunded to the exchequer, the chief executive of the Higher Education Authority has said.

It had previously been thought that the university owed €1.6 million in “unlawful” allowances paid to senior academic staff.

However, the authority’s chief executive Tom Boland yesterday told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that the figure was far higher.

“We’re talking about €6 million over the period of the unauthorised payments,” he said.

He intended to withhold from the university on an annual basis a portion of their grant until the debt was repaid, and he would next month seek approval from the board of the authority to withhold an initial allocation of about €1.2 million, he said.

UCD has refused to refund the allowance to senior academic staff.

In a letter to Mr Boland, circulated at the committee meeting yesterday, UCD president Dr Hugh Brady warned that an attempt to sanction the university would be “inappropriate, counter-productive and of dubious legality”.

Dr Brady claims that additional payments were necessary to incentivise “academic leaders” to take up senior positions, were “non-gratuitous” and were funded from non-exchequer income.

Mr Boland told the committee that he was well aware of the arguments made by UCD, but that they did not hold water.

“This letter really brings forward nothing new. It does not change the position that these payments were unauthorised . . . It matters not a bit that the funding comes from public or private sources.”

A number of universities had been making unauthorised payments over several years, Mr Boland said.

However, he said, while UCD had made unauthorised payments of about €6 million, the rest of the sector combined paid out about €1 million.

“Pending a resolution of these issues we will actually withhold funding from each of the universities involved.”

The funding withheld from each of the other universities in the first year would be in the “low hundreds of thousands”, he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath asked whether any sanctions were to be imposed on the individuals involved, particularly those who had approved the additional payments, given that they had been told by the authority that these were “unlawful”.

Mr Boland said there would be significant difficulties in recouping the money from the individuals who had been overpaid and that the question of sanctioning those who had approved the payments was a matter for the boards of the universities in question.

It emerged at a previous meeting of the committee that additional allowances were paid over a 10-year period without the approval of the authority, despite legislation that stipulates approval must be sought.

There was a major conflict of evidence between Mr Boland and Dr Brady at that meeting as to whether UCD knew it was not allowed to make extra payments to senior staff.