A retirement party for former president of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) Dr Brendan Murphy cost €13,000 of taxpayer money. Included in the spending for the party was a dolphin ice sculpture.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard from Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry that the spending was approved by Dr Murphy before he stepped down from his position in August.
The €13,000 was divided between multiple expenses covering the function, including €5,500 for “tables, frame drapes and audio-visual setup.” €4,892 was spent on food for the party and a further €1,840 for a separate dinner for senior staff. A further €700 was paid to classical music quarter CSM Amadeus Quartet Music.
CIT currently carries a €1 million deficit. A PAC hearing in July determined a review was necessary of the college’s expenditure following the spending of €20,000 on portraits of Dr Murphy and former chair of its governing body, Dr Paddy Caffrey.
Speaking before the PAC, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills Seán Ó’Foghlú said: “I would think it’s something that’s appropriate to be celebrated. It’s important for the institution in question to recognise the achievements of a leader over a period of time.”
Mr MacSharry TD, questioned the expenses. “Do you not think that’s a bit much for the taxpayer to be expected to pay?” MacSharry asked Ó’Foghlú. “Is it the taxpayer who should be expected to divvy up the money or should the invitees be quite reasonably asked if they’d like to contribute?” MacSharry continued.
MacSharry suggested the Department of Education issue a circular on the practice of invitees contributing to the expenses. He noted that when there is a retirement in the Oireachtas, an envelope is passed around for colleagues to contribute if they so wish. He encouraged CIT to adopt a similar practice.
The expenses first came to light when Dr Tom O’Connor, a senior lecturer at CIT, criticised them as an “extravagance.”
“It’s common for students now to work 20-hours a week in order to pay their way through college and to pay for their 3,000 registration fees. This amount is more than four times the cost to register a student,” O’Connor noted.
Staff felt that a “red carpet, marquee, statuettes and an ice-sculpture of a dolphin” were excessively lavish.
CIT issued a response defending the event. “Dr Brendan Murphy has had a long and distinguished career in Cork Institute of Technology, both as an educator and as an administrator,” the statement read. “On the occasion of his retirement, CIT’s Governing Body hosted an evening to acknowledge his immense contribution, and commitment, to CIT, to Cork, and to the entire Munster region.”
The Department of Education has been asked to closely monitor the use of taxpayers’ money for retirement functions in the future.