Legal threat to delay Public Accounts Committee hearing into UL finances

UL President Professor Kerstin Mey

THE threat of legal action by a person named in a report on governance issues at the University of Limerick looks likely to further delay the university’s appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to explain issues about its financial oversight.

UL Chancellor Mary Harney and President Kerstin Mey had been asked to attend a PAC hearing in April but this was deferred when it emerged that they would not be available to answer questions on the same date.

According to the Irish Examiner, the PAC has now been informed by Professor Mey that a legal threat of “interlocutory action” had been made by a key individual named in the report conducted by consultants KPMG.

The firm was retained last June to investigate the circumstances that saw the university acquire the Dunnes Stores site on Sarsfield’s Bridge in Limerick City for €8 million in 2019, despite the same site being valued at just €3 million in 2017.

Subsequent to the purchase of the site, it emerged that no independent valuation had been sought prior to the transaction.

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PAC vice-chair and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said it was “very hard to see how we can proceed meaningfully” given the KPMG report has been delayed.

“We had been waiting until this report was available,” Ms Murphy said. “It was going to be a critical piece for us.

Any meeting we have has to be meaningful. We can’t have a scenario where they show up and say that the information we need is in a report that we can’t talk about.”

Prof Mey told the PAC the report had been received by the university and “circulated to the key individuals named in the report”.

She added: “The university subsequently received legal correspondence from one of the individuals seeking the report to be withdrawn and not circulated with a threat of interlocutory action.”

An interlocutory action would result in the report being temporarily suppressed under injunction.

Prof Mey said UL  was in the process of seeking a view on the matter from KPMG and that the current position of the university’s legal advisers is that they should not circulate the report “until the content of the letter is reviewed and responded to”.

The UL President also acknowledged to the PAC that the terms of reference for the KPMG report had been drafted by the university itself.

“The HR director issued a draft terms of reference to the independent chair of the audit and risk committee for review,” she said, adding that the feedback provided to those draft terms had led to the final terms being issued to KPMG.