Irish university drops defamation case against local paper
The University of Limerick (UL) has confirmed that it is dropping defamation proceedings against the 'Limerick Leader' newspaper and its editor arising from the claims of two whistleblowers in its finance department.
Seamus Dooley, national secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said the decision to sue editor Alan English in a personal capacity was "especially sinister", adding that the newspaper did nothing wrong and was covering a matter of "great public interest".
The legal action, which was entered in the High Court, arose from a story last September regarding the claims of two whistleblowers in the UL finance department.
The allegations by these two women, and of a third whistleblower, Leona O'Callaghan - who preceded them in the finance department - resulted in the Higher Education Authority (HEA) commissioning a report into the policies and procedures employed by UL in a number of areas, in which it highlighted serious shortcomings.
All three women highlighted concerns in relation to inappropriate expenses claims they were asked to process by certain members of staff.
The HEA also expressed concern that a culture of making inappropriate claims may still exist at UL.
The two female whistleblowers - who are currently suspended on pay - are now hopeful their employment status can be resolved following confirmation that UL has terminated its legal proceedings. They want to be reinstated.
UL president Don Barry issued a statement confirming that the legal action has been dropped.
Mr Barry said the story in the 'Limerick Leader', that two UL employees were offered €60,000 severance arrangements in return for their silence over financial irregularities in the treatment of expense claims, was untrue and had the potential to damage the university's reputation.
However, he said both UL and the 'Limerick Leader' were "important institutions in the mid-west" and dropping the legal proceedings was in the interests of both parties and of the wider community.
Mr English said the proceedings should never have been issued, and the paper is still standing by its story.