The head of a third-level college has apologised to staff and students after more than €436,000 was spent on an investigation into plagiarism by a student.
Jim Fennell, the acting president of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), said the probe ended up being more complex and therefore more expensive than initially envisaged.
Two external investigators were paid €1,500-a-day to probe the plagiarism allegations and claims staff were involved in a cover-up, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard.
Mr Fennell said: "I wish to apologise to all our stakeholders and, in particular, our staff and students that such expenditure was incurred at a time when costs can only be borne by reducing expenditure in areas which directly impact our staff and students."
The case involved a lecturer providing restricted material to a student. The investigation would end up dragging on for over two years.
Higher Education Authority chief executive Tom Boland said it had brought in new procedures to ensure closer control of the costs of such investigations.
PAC member Paul Connaughton said the inquiry had been "a runaway train", while its chairman, John McGuinness, said taxpayers' money had been "squandered".
Mr Fennell said the investigation was launched in 2010 after media reports implied the institute was engaged in a cover-up. Two investigators were hired, Professor Bairbre Redmond, the UCD deputy registrar, and barrister Ed Madden.
Mr Fennell said that as the investigation progressed there were concerns about the mounting costs. But because it was dealing with an alleged cover-up, he said "it was important to protect the independence of the investigation". Mr Fennell said the probe resulted in disciplinary action, with at least one individual moved to a different role on a reduced salary.