UL funding withheld over financial governance concerns

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Former Dunnes Stores site, Sarsfield Bridge. Picture True Media

by Bernie English

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THE UNIVERSITY of Limerick has had more than two thirds of its capital funding held back pending a probe into financial issues, including the price paid for the former Dunnes Stores site in the city.

The university’s overall capital funding from the Department of Higher Education should have been €2,447,809 for the academic year 2021/22, but €1.69 million of that has been held back.

This is related to a series of issues raised about UL’s financial governance, including allegations it had paid more than twice the market value for the former Dunnes Stores site on Sarsfield Street.

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The university acquired the site for €8 million in 2019 without an independent valuation despite the same site being valued at €3 million only two years previously.

Department of Further Education Secretary General Jim Breslin told the Public Accounts Committee that after consulting the Higher Education Authority, he paused the outstanding payment “pending the provision of assurances by UL to the HEA on its capital governance processes”.

A spokesperson for the university said it had provided the assurances that were sought regarding its governance “to the satisfaction of the HEA”.

“The HEA is liaising with the department regarding the release of the remainder of the capital grant to UL,” they said.

Mr Breslin said he is “currently considering the position” regarding the remaining €1.69m in light of the assurances provided.

Some €757,809 had already been approved for release in August ahead of the new academic year to support time-sensitive payments regarding the provision of additional college places and IT supports for disadvantaged students, he said.

Financial consultants KPMG were called in by the university earlier this year to examine the acquisition of the Dunnes Stores site intended to extend the UL campus to the heart of the city.

Mr Breslin told the committee the KPMG review has not yet been finalised, but that the university has “confirmed it will act to address any issues, findings or recommendations that are highlighted by that review in due course”.