UL accused of ‘throwing money around like confetti’ in €12.58m Rhebogue property purchase

The main building at the University of Limerick.

THE UNIVERSITY of Limerick (UL) is expected to appear before the Dáil’s Pubic Accounts Committee (PAC) once again amid claims that the university is “throwing money around like confetti”.

The claim comes after it was reported that the institution purchased a 20 house development in Rhebogue, which reportedly did not have the correct planning permission to be used as student accommodation.

Now, a search of the Residential Property Price Register shows that UL paid €11.44million for the 20-property development in Rhebogue, around three kilometres from the university’s Castletroy campus.

Factoring in stamp duty and other taxes that UL would have had to pay on the development, the total cost to the university has been estimated in the region of €12.58million, as reported in the Sunday World.

This brings the average cost of each house to €629,000 each, close to double the market rate for similar properties in the area.

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Now, chair of the PAC, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, has accused UL of “throwing money around like confetti”, with the university expected to be again called before the PAC to explain the spend.

“They overpaid for the Dunnes Stores site by a massive amount. That was questioned by the PAC and others. Here it looks to me like no lessons have been learned,” Mr Stanley said.

“They face a significant stamp duty bill, have planning issues to deal with, and are looking at a total cost of €12.5m.”

“All third-level colleges are short of money. We want them to be well resourced. A lot of tutors in the sector are on part-time contracts, lecturers complain they are on 11 to 15 hours a week and want better conditions, but here we are with a university throwing money around like confetti,” Mr Stanley stated.

In a statement, a spokesperson from UL said that they expect to recoup the costs of purchasing the development in a “medium” time period.

“The market is extremely competitive and there is an acute shortage of housing in Limerick and nationally including accommodation for students and staff of the university,” the UL representative said.

“The capital costs of the development will be fully recouped over a medium time period given that rental income is being generated by the university subsidiary, which owns and manages UL’s on campus accommodation.”

The spokesperson added that the university is trying to find ways to tackle the student accommodation crisis. Commenting on the claims that the Rhebogue housing doesn’t have the proper planning permissions, the university rep said: “The houses were constructed by a private developer with full planning permission in place. The university subsidiary is engaging with Limerick City and County Council on any issues, and it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”

“UL continues to strongly engage with all stakeholders, including government, to find solutions to the current accommodation crisis,” the spokesperson said.

The concerns over the university’s spend on the development in Rhebogue come just weeks after an email sent from UL President Professor Kerstin Mey acknowledging that UL overpaid for the controversial Dunnes Stores site on Sarsfield Street by €1.5million.

The proposed city campus has been dogged in controversy since it emerged that UL bought the site for over €8million without having gotten a formal valuation before purchasing it.

Valuers from Power Property put the Red Book value of the controversial site in 2019 at €6.5m, the same year UL purchased it for €8.3m.

The purchase was the subject of UL’s appearance at a meeting of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee in May of last year.

The most recent valuation for the property, undertaken in September 2023, found that the building would now be worth €5.58m – an almost €3m loss on what the university paid in 2019.

The building had been previously valued in 2017 at an estimated €3million.