University of Limerick failed to tell the truth about severance deals

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University of Limerick President Professor Des Fitzgerald

UNIVERSITY of Limerick president, Dr Des Fitzgerald has acknowledged that there were “serious failures” when the university “misrepresented” information given to State bodies about severance packages given to two employees.

Dr Fitzgerald’s response was published this Tuesday in a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy on the handling of remunerations for certain senior staff.

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The report found that the University fell short in the “completeness and accuracy” of information provided for severance contracts and pensions awarded to employees of a subsidiary company.

The two employees were added to the UL pension scheme at a cost of €1.2 million and the report also found that the discretionary awarding of 324 professional service years to UL employees between 2012 and 2016 cost the exchequer an estimated €1.27 million.

In Dublin City University during the same time frame, less than 100 professional service years were added to academic staff with the report highlighting the fact that UL rewarded more employees more generously.

Professional added years for pension purposes are designed to compensate for the inability of certain professional or technical staff to qualify for a full pension based on 40 years service by mandatory retirement age.

It also found that on several occasions UL “withheld relevant and material information” from the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, the Department of Education and Skills and its own legal team.

In a statement contained within the CAG report on the handling of a remunerations for certain senior staff at the University of Limerick, Dr Fitzgerald said that he has put in place new management structures and procedures for “ongoing restructuring.”

A previous special report highlighted the circumstances surrounding the severance contracts given to the two executives but this Tuesday’s report found that the two employees from Plassey Campus Centre (PCC) had their individual employees’ and employer’s contributions, totalling €708,000, transferred from the PCC pension fund to the University.

One of the executives retired in 2014 and is receiving €745,000 more in benefits than was transferred to the University, while the second senior executive who has not yet retired will receive up to €424,000 in excess of the transfer amount.

The retired executive was immediately re-engaged by PCC on one-day a week part-time contract for one year and was paid €43,000 more than the contracted amount.

The CAG found that the University failed to keep adequate records in relation to the two executives and recommended that UL should examine all its subsidiary companies to ensure correct contractual arrangements are in place.

Mr McCarthy’s report also found that the University “back-dated” a contract which was given to a CAG examination team in 2015, purporting it had been signed four years beforehand.

However, the report states that  it “does not make any criticism or comment or present any view with respect to the staff members concerned”

In his response, Dr Fitzgerald said that since coming into office in May 2017 he has “put in place a new management structure, in particular, the appointment of a Chief Operating Officer and Registrar to which Human Resources and Finance report.”

“In addition, the subsidiary companies have been restructured and the Governing Authority has also been changed.