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President of indebted university enjoying the high life

Business class flights around the world with his wife, five-star accommodation, lavish dinners in exclusive restaurants -- all part and parcel of the life of the president of University College Cork, and partly paid for by the taxpayer.

Globetrotting Dr Michael Murphy's extravagance comes despite the seven Irish universities having a collective debt of over €30m, including €13m from UCC alone.

In total, for the two years, in addition to his €270,000-a-year salary, Dr Murphy's expenses claims totalled over €75,000 for the period from January 2008 to December 2009, far higher than his UCD counterpart Hugh Brady, whose expenses we revealed two weeks ago.

Included in Dr Murphy's trips were numerous visits across the globe including a €6,642 trip to New York, a €5,606 trip to Miami, a €3,451 to South Africa, a €3,330 to China and a €2,280 trip to Hong Kong and Singapore.

On several occasions, the college paid for Dr Murphy's wife Siobhan to travel with him to events in North America, to which they flew by business class.

One business class trip to New York cost €2,278.

On another trip, both Dr and Mrs Murphy were upgraded on internal flights between Boston and Miami.

While abroad, Dr Murphy has also enjoyed some of the finest luxury accommodation available across the world.

In February 2008, he racked up a €1,221 bill for his four-day stay in the Marriott in Palm Beach Florida.

He also clocked up an €881 hotel bill in the Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan, and during a stint in Shanghai the taxpayer footed a €542 bill for him to stay in Le Royal Meridien.

Shortly after he assumed the UCC presidency from Dr Gerry Wrixon, the taxpayer paid €3,292 for him to attend a programme for new presidents in Harvard University in June 2008.

Added to this was the €1,553 for business class flights, plus a bill of €426 for accommodation during the conference.

The university president, it seems, also has a rich pallet and has enjoyed the hospitality of some of the country's finest eataries.

There was a €658 dinner in Balzac on Dublin's Dawson Street, a €411 dinner in Toddies Restaurant in Kinsale, a €290 bill for dinner at the posh Renato's Restaurant in Palm Beach, a €187 dinner at the famous Trocadero Bistro in Dublin and a €143 bill for a posh lunch at Ballymaloe, Shanagarry, Co Cork.

Also included in his claims were numerous trips between Cork and Dublin for meetings with other university presidents. According to the documents, Dr Murphy always travelled first-class by train and regularly stayed over in the capital. More than €1,000 in first-class rail fares were clocked up during the two-year period. While in Dublin, he regularly stayed at the O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel and occasionally at the Burlington Hotel.

The details were obtained under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.

Defending the proliferation of first-class or business class travel, Dr Murphy said: "Due to an extremely busy diary at home, final preparation for overseas engagements particularly in Asia and America, normally involves working up to two-to-three hours before arrival, on speeches, presentations, negotiations, etc."

"It is normal during such engagements for the president to arrive at his destination and begin immediately to attend functions or meetings on behalf of the university," he said.

Dr Murphy also said that diminishing funding from the State requires a higher source of private funding. He said this means going to the places to meet the people who are willing to invest.

"If UCC, or any Irish university, is expected to perform to 'world-class standards' it must adopt the practices that are required to so do.

"With diminishing exchequer funding and explicit commitment to increasing income from international education, we are required to form partnerships with international universities," he said.

Despite business class being the preferred mode of international transportation for Dr Murphy and his wife, a spokesman for the university insisted the flights for Mrs Murphy were not paid for by the Irish taxpayer.

"Such travel costs are paid either through the university's philanthropic or commercial earnings.

"The president and his wife have incurred costs running to many thousands of euro for babysitting services while they are abroad representing the university, but such costs have never been charged to UCC," the spokesman said.

Sunday Independent