UCD could be forced to pay back 'illegal' staff allowances
UCD faces the prospect of having to pay back illegal and unapproved overpayments it made to hundreds of staff over a number of years.
The move was disclosed at a Public Accounts Committee yesterday where a dispute arose over whether or not the payments had been approved by the Higher Education Authority, the agency with responsibility for higher education.
The numbers in receipt of the allowances increased when Dr Hugh Brady became president six years ago. They were signed off by senior staff on UCD's finance, remuneration, and asset management committee.
At the committee meeting, UCD president Dr Hugh Brady insisted that the HEA had been told of the allowances and raised no objections for years but this stance was challenged by HEA chief executive Tom Boland, who quoted correspondence going back to 2005 saying the payments were not approved and that they were ultra vires -- against the law.
At one stage yesterday a clearly exasperated Mr Boland said, "what part of 'NO' did UCD not understand?"
Last week, the Comptroller and Auditor General John Buckley disclosed that the college had made unauthorised payments of €1m to a small number of senior staff, as well as smaller allowances to 300 other staff and that it had given €260,000 in bonuses to 12 staff.
Discussions are still taking place on these overpayments and Department of Finance official Brendan Ellison said there could be a need to recoup the money from the university. He did not say whether this would have to come from the individuals or the institution.
From the outset the HEA objective was to have the unauthorised payments in the sector ended, Mr Boland said.
However, the UCD president strongly defended the allowances saying they were the norm internationally.
Second-level principals could earn up to €40,000 extra but the most anybody got in UCD was €25,000 to run, for instance, a medical school which raised €7m in non-exchequer funding. He said the allowances -- now ceased -- accounted for only 0.3pc of the total bill for the university in 2007 to 2008.
The meeting also heard that the university pension funds which had transferred to the State had assets worth €1.36bn but liabilities of €2.15bn.
Trinity had assets worth €280.5m and liabilities of €595m; NUI Maynooth had assets of €58.5m and liabilities of €155m; UCC had assets of €321.1m and liabilities of €456m; UCD had assets of €496.5m and liabilities of €598m; while NUI Galway had assets of €215.7m and liabilities of €348m.