Former Fianna Fail TD, Dr Donie Ormonde, is stepping down as chair of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in the latest twist in the controversy over the proposed university of the South East.
Dr Ormonde tendered his resignation today only 24 hours after a meeting with Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan following the shock decision of Waterford IT to pull the plug on merger talks with IT Carlow as a prelude to applying for university status.
Ms O’Sullivan immediately announced a new initiative to get the proposed new-style technological university , back on track, with the appointment of the former general secretary of the Department of Health, Michael Kelly to head up a process to “reinvigorate” . the project..
Mr Kelly has played a similar role in guiding moves by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown and the Institute of Technology Tallaght in their joint efforts to become a technological university
The unilateral decision by Waterford IT , last month, caused outrage in Cabinet circles because a university in the south east is a commitment in the Programme for Government and is particularly close to the heart of Co Wexford based Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.
Mr Howlin and former Fine Gael TD for Carlow Kilkenny, Phil Hogan, now Ireland’s EU Commissioner, championed the case of a university in the south east, based on an alliance between the two institutes of tehcno0logy.
But inter-institute wrangling meant the process never got off the ground, while similar proposals for technological university in Dublin, and another in Munster are well advanced.
Yesterday, Ms O Sullivan met Dr Ormonde along with the chairman of IT Carlow and the presidents of both institutes. The minister spoke to Dr Ormonde again today and he tendered his resignation.
At today’s Cabinet meeting, the minister briefed her ministerial colleagues on developments.
After the meeting she stated that technological universities would make a positive contribution to third-level education in Ireland, and add to the economy and social fabric of their regions, noting that the Dublin project and another in Munster were well advanced.
"I fully acknowledge the work that the leadership of both institutions have committed to the project but it’s also true to say that momentum has slipped in recent weeks”, she said
The relationship between the institutes in Waterford and Carlow has been difficult. Relations soured further in recent weeks after a draft report from an independent expert, Professor John Taylor ,which praises much of Carlow’s progress but says it would be at least five years before a merged institution could meet the stated criteria for technological university status, possibly longer.
Following that, the Waterford IT executive board prepared a paper for a meeting of the Governing Authority two weeks ago, which triggered the decision to suspend merger activities.
The executive board paper stated that it was clear that a merged institution “will be incapable of designation as a university within the medium to long term, if ever”.
It describes the proposed merger as a “leap of faith” and that a merger would lead to a larger institution but its performance capacity would certainly be “less than the current performance of WIT alone”, a reference to the relative lack of research activity in Carlow.
Following that Ms O’Sullivan called Waterford IT president Ruaidhri Neavyn and the vice chairman of Governing Body, Colr Jack Walsh to meeting body where she strongly communicated the Government commitment to the project.
There have bene ongoing discussions between her officials and the two institutes since then, leading to yesterday’s meeting.