Thursday 14 November 2019

Fury at UL's €3m 'second residence' of president

Batt O'Keeffe orders report into spending on 'lavish' campus house


THE University of Limerick's controversial building of a new multi-million euro house for its president Don Barry went ahead despite the college already owning a second "president's house" in Killaloe, Co Clare, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

It has emerged that the new campus house, which Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe called "lavish", will cost more than €3m, far higher than the original estimated figure of €1.5m, at a time when the college has accumulated debts of over €3m.

Mr O'Keeffe has ordered a report into the spending on the new three-storey house, which is located on the Clare campus of UL. He is seeking the report despite the college's repeated insistence that it was paid for exclusively from money from leading philanthropist Chuck Feeney.

The existing €1m house in Killaloe was occupied by former college president Roger Downer for the duration of his presidency until his early retirement in 2007, due to ill health. Following his retirement, Professor Downer and his wife moved out of the house in Killaloe but to date it remains under the ownership of the college.

The revelation of the second house will increase the pressure on Professor Barry to make a public statement on all matters relating to the house and to explain why it went ahead when the college already owns a residence for the president.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Prof Downer confirmed that the college did purchase the house at Killaloe for the purpose of being a residence for the president as well as a venue for hosting receptions.

He said he moved out of the house when he retired and relinquished all ties with it. "I actually did badly out of it because I had to pay benefit-in-kind for the use of the house," he said.

Prof Downer said the Killaloe house was possible as a result of donations and was a fine addition to the college's facilities. "We moved into the house and we used it for hosting receptions. The house was bought using donations from philanthropic sources," he said.

However, it has been pointed out that even if both houses had been entirely bought using private donations, the maintenance and servicing of the houses is coming from taxpayers' money.

A spokesman for Mr O'Keeffe said he has ordered a report that will cover all relevant issues to do with the house.

Fine Gael's education spokesman Brian Hayes told the Sunday Independent that it needed to be established whether those donating the money were fully aware what the money was being used for.

"Is it really the best use of the money to buy a house that will be of little or no benefit to students? These people seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land," he said.

UL is under heavy fire following the Sunday Independent's report last week about the new luxury house. In that report, we revealed how the current president, Prof Barry, and his wife Anna Doughan, who he appointed to a senior position in the college without anyone else being interviewed or considered, are to move into the new purpose-built multi-million euro luxury home on campus next month.

The college last week denied allegations of cronyism over the appointment of Ms Doughan.

According to a cost plan for the new house, designed by Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, dating back to 2008, the house has five bedrooms, a large reception room, a dining room with a terrace, a large living room and an expansive kitchen.

It also includes a six-person lift costing €50,000, a top-of- the-range broadband connection costing €50,000, a 20-25-seater dining table, outside furniture, and a €100,000 heating and cooling system.

It has also emerged that the college purchased a quantity of Japanese silk wallpaper at an estimated cost of over €40,000 for the president's office.

The initial figure for the house build was in the region of €1.5m to €2m, but this does not include many of the add-on costs of the house. Given it is on an isolated site on campus, a fully serviced road along with footpaths and lights had to be built as well as much of the exterior fittings.

According to college sources, when all the elements are put together the total cost of the project is in the region of €3.25m to €3.5m.

Sunday Independent

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