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Saturday 19 August 2017

UL makes sabbatical payment settlement of €186,000

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Katherine Donnelly and Ryan Nugent

The University of Limerick (UL) made a €186,000 settlement with the Revenue Commissioners after the public spending watchdog raised an issue about how the college remunerated staff on sabbatical leave.

UL president Professor Don Barry told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee that it engaged with Revenue on a voluntary basis and the payment, which covered 2008-2012, included interest of €22,000.

The nature of payment arrangements for staff on sabbatical piqued the Comptroller and Auditor General's (C&AG)interest during a review.

UL director of finance Michael Field told the PAC the practice had been to "knock back" the salary, but to also to pay daily expenses.

Prof Barry said they had since changed their sabbatical policy "to bring it in to line with the taxation laws of this country".

The figure emerged during questioning on UL's financial accounts for 2014-15, and a wider discussion about a long-running controversy over the fate of three whistleblowers who raised concerns about expenses claims and other financial transactions at the college.

One of the three is no longer employed at UL and the other two have been suspended on full pay since 2014. The Higher Education Authority (HEA) has spent about €75,000 investigating, and seeking to resolve, the disputes, but has exhausted all its procedures. Prof Barry said the two suspended whistleblowers had made complaints about physical threats against them by a colleague, which were not upheld at two hearings and which were described as having "malicious intent".

As a result, the college began disciplinary proceedings against them but that never got off the ground because of the HEA intervention, said Prof Barry. The matter is with the Workplace Relations Commission and Education Minister Richard Bruton. The two suspended staff are currently replaced in their role.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said with three out of 38 staff in a department "falling foul of the system" she had a "sinking feeling that all was not well in the department".

At an earlier session of the PAC yesterday, Labour's Alan Kelly raised concerns over the "millions" spent by University College Cork (UCC) on legal battles - particularly in relation to staff - saying he believes UCC is forking out more than the rest of the universities combined.

Irish Independent

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