Wednesday 26 July 2017

Quinn intervenes in reappointment of college chief

Professor Kieran Byrne
Professor Kieran Byrne
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn last night dramatically intervened in a deepening row over the re-appointment of Waterford Institute of Technology president Professor Kieran Byrne.

He did so amid new revelations over the level of spending authorised by the president's office in the past seven years.

It includes €290,814 for hospitality, €139,977 for courier and taxi charges -- including €129,295 to one local company -- and €134,009 for fine art.

The minister issued a surprise statement on the eve of a meeting of the WIT Governing Body today, which has Prof Byrne's reappointment on the agenda.

Mr Quinn said that the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the State's funding arm for higher education, was awaiting an immediate report on spending at the institute.

Prof Byrne expected to be returned unopposed to the post he has held for 10 years, but the decision was delayed from a previous meeting amid revelations of high spending.

According to previous reports, about €170,000 was spent on fitting out the president's office and the boardroom.

These were based on responses to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests submitted by the Waterford Colleges branch of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI).

Now, there are new revelations, also released under FoI in recent days, about spending authorised by Prof Byrne's office, including hospitality, flowers and taxis/car hire between 2004 and 2011.

In releasing the information, WIT advised that the spending related to a number of institutional costs and costs related to many aspects of institute-wide activity. It said it needed to be viewed with other documentation to give a full understanding of the expenditure of the office of the president.

Last night, Prof Byrne said he was surprised that the figures were causing controversy and that the spending on issues such as hospitality represented an investment on behalf of the institute.

He said the spending was done at a very busy time for the college, which included the institute's campaign for university status and international networking.

He added that he didn't draw any personal mileage expenses, but sometimes hired a car for travel. He recognised that "we are in a different time".

Last week, the WIT governing body appointed a team from the accountancy firm Deloitte, to review spending on foot of the mounting controversy.

The revelations also sparked serious concern in official circles and gave rise to the HEA request for an immediate report on the Deloitte findings.

The report will be presented to today's meeting of the Governing Body. There was no comment from the college last night.

The minister said he was aware of recent steps taken by the governing body to commission an external review of spending at the institute.

Report

He said the HEA had sought an immediate report on the issues that have given rise to the decision to commission an external review and has asked for an interim report from WIT on any issues arising from the external review.

Some of the documents released under FoI earlier show that almost €50,000 was spent on Prof Byrne's office in 2008, while over €86,000 was spent on the boardroom, including two kitchens. A further €20,000 was spent on furniture, fittings and security last year in Prof Byrne's office.

The FoI requests were submitted by TUI branch in the context of budgetary cuts to ensure money was being spent in priority areas.

Irish Independent

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