Thursday 23 March 2017

Orgy of expenditure by WIT boss amounts to a €6.7m splurge

New documents reveal full extent of extravagance at State's expense

DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter

THE outgoing president of Waterford IT, Professor Kieran Byrne, oversaw an incredible €6.7m splurge by his office, according to documents released by the college.

Prof Byrne's position was said to be untenable by a government spokesman, following the publication of some of the detail of his expenses.

However, today the full extent of his office's excess is revealed by the Sunday Independent.

The expenses details, which were released under the Freedom of Information Act, are now the subject of an inquiry ordered by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Prof Byrne was not reappointed to the position of president by the Governing Authority of WIT on Thursday and senior government sources made known their deep unhappiness about the level of excessive spending by Prof Byrne and his office.

"His position had become untenable," one senior government source said.

According to the college's PR representative, Brendan Bracken -- whose firm was paid more than €275,000 in fees -- the information that was released last week "carries a number of institutional costs and costs related to many aspects of Institute-wide activity."

On the €6.7m figure, he said: "The information is not a full representation of transactions as it needs to be viewed with other documentation to give a full understanding of the expenditure of the office of the president.

"This institutional expenditure includes items such as annual subscription to the Institutes of Technology Ireland, travel associated with representatives of the Institute and Governing Body travel and related expenditure."

According to the documents, Prof Byrne oversaw a €290,813 outlay on hospitality expenses. Included in that was a €61,270 bill from the Arlington Hotel, a €3,272 bill from the five-star Shelbourne Hotel, a €5,853 bill from the five-star Merrion Hotel, Dublin, and a €42,606 bill for the on-campus Hot House Bistro.

"In general, (these bills were for) the hosting of meetings and events on official Institute business," Mr Bracken said.

Most controversial has been the spend of €141,517 on taxis. Of that, €127,430 was paid to a Martin and Eleanor Power, who did not tender for the work. "There was no tender for this service as it was below the annual tendering limit," said Mr Bracken.

Incredibly, the college spent €1,149,046 on publicity and professional guidance during the 2004-2010 period.

When asked why that figure was so high, Mr Bracken said: "WIT does not have a press office but works with professionals to provide this service to its marketing team."

Controversially, €134,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on "fine art".

Despite its decision not to reappoint Prof Byrne, the college has said all of his office's expenditure was approved by the Governing Board.

Prof Byrne himself defended a range of spending on taxis, fine art and other services, saying these were "good value for money".

He said that a driver/taxi service he had used for trips to Dublin actually saved public funds as it was less expensive than mileage payments.

Earlier this year, Prof Byrne faced controversy when it emerged that €157,000 was spent on an office and boardroom two years ago, even though the president's office is located in a new €24m tourism and leisure building on the campus.

Purchases over the past three years included an audio-visual system (€10,000), fitted furniture, fittings and curtains (€24,000) and loose furniture (€30,240).

Sunday Independent

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