'I'd say it was some bash' - lavish €13k retirement party for college president included ice sculptures
- Retirement party for Dr Brendan Murphy as president of Cork Institute of Technology
- The €13,000 included the cost of drapes, frames, audiovisual equipment and ice sculptures
- FF TD Marc MacSharry reads out details of the party
The Secretary General of the Department of Education has admitted attending a lavish retirement party for an institute of technology president that cost the taxpayer €13,000.
It arose as Seán Ó Foghlú, the department's most senior civil servant, was grilled by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the issue of ETB (Education and Training Board) and Solas (formally FÁS) budgets.
During the meeting, Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry asked Mr Ó Foghlú if there were guidelines on retirement parties. Mr Ó Foghlú replied that it was important for institutions to recognise the contributions of leaders.
Mr MacSharry read out the details of the party held to mark the retirement in August of Dr Brendan Murphy as president of Cork Institute of Technology. The €13,000 included the cost of drapes, frames, audiovisual equipment and ice sculptures. "I'd say it was some bash at the expense of the taxpayers," Mr MacSharry said.
Mr Ó Foghlú said he had been at the party. "It's not the guests' fault," Mr MacSharry said. However, he asked whether the party should have been paid for by contributions from the guests, rather than from public funds.
In a statement later, the Higher Education Authority said it was "following up with the Institute to seek a full explanation".
Committee members were left frustrated after it took 18 minutes to clarify how much yearly public funding the ETB sector receives - around €1.76bn. "The most simple, basic information took 18 minutes [for the department to clarify to the PAC]. I'm sorry that it has taken 18 minutes," chairman Fianna Fáil's Seán Fleming said.
During the meeting Seán Ashe, chief executive of the Kildare and Wicklow ETB, declined to answer questions about its 2013/2014 accounts.
President emeritus of Sligo Institute of Technology Richard Thorn has been appointed by the Department of Education to carry out an independent investigation into procurement practices at the ETB. Mr Ashe told the committee Mr Thorn advised him not to say anything at the meeting to prejudice this investigation.
"It is not for Richard Thorn to advise anybody to come here and not answer questions. I find that shocking and scandalous," Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said.