Taoiseach ‘very concerned’ over UL spending controversy

Taoiseach Simon Harris said he is "very concerned" about the spending controversy at UL.

THE TAOISEACH has said that he is “very concerned” about the ongoing spending saga at the University of Limerick (UL) and that questions need to be answered.

Speaking on a visit to Limerick last Friday (April 12), Taoiseach Simon Harris said that while “a lot of good things happen” at UL, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) needs to be allowed to exercise the powers given to it by government to investigate spending concerns.

UL has been in hot water since it emerged that it overpaid by €5million for a development of 20 houses in Rhebogue, as well as the long-running saga about the institution’s overpayment for its  City Campus site on Sarsfield Street in Limerick City.

The university paid €11.4million for the houses in Rhebogue, with a later independent review showing that the houses would be worth just €6.2million.

In response to the situation in UL, the HEA invoked special powers in order to carry out an investigation into the spending and governance of UL.

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Speaking in Limerick on Friday, Deputy Harris said that it is “important” to let the HEA complete its investigation into UL.

A lot of good things happen in the University of Limerick, but I am very concerned about some recent developments,” the Fine Gael leader said.

“I was, as a minister, the person who passed the legislation that gives the Higher Education Authority real teeth in this area, that allows the HEA under Section 64 of the Higher Education Authority Act to intervene when something goes wrong.”

The Taoiseach said he believes it is “really important now that the powers that government have given to the HEA are used, that answers are established, and that the university cooperates in full with the Public Accounts Committee, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and any other body or agency that may have questions”.

Newly-appointed Minister for Higher Education and Limerick TD Patrick O’Donovan also said that space needs to be given to the HEA to carry out its work.

I also think it’s hugely important, as the Taoiseach said, that there’s full cooperation with any and all inquiries that take place. And ultimately, look, what my ambition is, is to make sure that the university’s reputation is restored as quickly as possible,” the Minister concluded.