Sunday 22 September 2019

HR practices and use of severance payments at University of Limerick criticised following review

University of Limerick (Stock photo)
University of Limerick (Stock photo)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The University of Limerick has been criticised for its use of severance payments worth €1.7m and its handling of staff issues in a new report on a series of controversies at the college in recent years.

A total of eight severance packages, agreed between 2007 and 2015, came under scrutiny in the review carried out by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Department of Education.

In five of the cases, individuals were under investigation for what was deemed to be gross misconduct under a section of the Universities Act, but the Review found that its application of the particular clause  was “overly severe” and  at least some cases could have been dealt with differently.

According to the review, a common theme across the five cases is that individuals felt under pressure to agree an exit deal.

The Review found that severance packages breached public pay guidelines, the Department of Education was not told about them and they were not approved by the university’s governing authority.

The report states that the number of severance packages entered into by UL during the period under review was “several orders of magnitude greater than any other institution in the department’s jurisdiction”

Former UL president, Professor Don Barry, confirmed to the Review that the decision to enter into the agreements was an executive one.

“The Review finds that management of the severances ( and the events leading to them) are the communication of  their facts to relevant stakeholders, was confusing”,  the report states.

The severance package issue is one of a number o matters dealt  with in  the report commissioned following a series of controversies over the unsanctioned severance payments, expenses  and governance at the university in recent years.

Some of issues raised by whistleblowers had already been investigated while other matters emerged in a report by the State spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), and were discussed the Oireachtas’ Public  Accounts  Committee (PAC) last Spring.

In 2016, the Department of Educaton had sought the co-operation of the university for a full review of  the allegations made, but that was not forthcoming

However, when a new president, Professor Des Fitzgerald was appointed earlier this year, he contacted the Department and agreed that an independent review warranted. Dr Thorn was appointed in May.

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