Costly UL residence leaves Kenny and O’Keeffe unimpressed by college’s needless extravagance

A minor controversy has developed surrounding the newly constructed residence of UL President Don Barry on the campus of the University. Both the Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe and the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny have criticised the extremely expensive project, which is expected to come to over €3 million when costs of fixtures and outside infrastructure are added to the €1.1 million cost of the building itself.  Speaking on Morning Ireland, Mr O’Keeffe commented that “obviously at a time of stringent financial constraints one would always ask people in authority to exercise restraint. It sounds lavish.” He declared that he will be ordering a report into the construction of the house.
The lavish building comes at a time when, according to the Sunday Independent, the university has now accumulated debts of over €3 million. In a large exposé on the new house, the paper detailed the extravagant spending on its interior. It emerged for example, that a quantity of Japanese silk wallpaper had been purchased at an estimated cost of over €40,000 for the president’s office. There was further controversy over the fact that the existing president’s €1 million house in Killaloe, remains under the ownership of the college, thus leading many to question the need for this second residence in the first place.
The university and its Students’ Union have been vocal in their defence of the project. The university emphasised that the money used for the house is private money, rather than that of taxpayers. It is understood to have been donated by Atlantic Philanthropies. This private foundation created in 1982 by the American billionaire Chuck Feeney, has donated over €40 million to UL, and been an essential driving force behind the university’s success. Eamonn Cregan, director of corporate affairs at UL, was also keen to stress that the university will have the building “at its disposal for a wide range of public events and campus functions as well as obviously providing residence for the president.”
Surprisingly, students were also keen to support the building of the residence, despite seeing a massive increase in their registration fees and various other educational cutbacks this year. Students’ Union President Ruan Dillon-McLoughlin acknowledged that it forms “part of the long term strategic plan for the university that will help see the university become a world class university in terms of infrastructure.” Many students were sceptical about the Minister’s sudden admonishment of a project that has been planned for a number of years now. 
Some like business student Shane O’Sullivan thought the Minister was looking for an “easy headline.” Others rationalised the spending of such an amount on the president’s residence by contrasting it with the vast sums of money that have been donated to UL, thus seeking to demonstrate that in comparative terms, the amount spent on the residence did not amount to much.
Despite the obvious need for a fully functioning president’s house on campus and the fact that it was paid for through private funding, it must still be acknowledged that the excessive sum of money spent on the property is difficult to reconcile with the realities of the current economic climate. Such profligacy frustrates many people who are being forced to tighten their belts and suffer the consequences of the extraordinary wastefulness that has permeated Irish public life over the past twelve years.
Even though the donor has the right to ask and dictate where the money should be spent, it would have been nice if, in the words of Deputy  Kenny, “the board had been more concentrated on seeking funding for the education resources of the students who attend UL.”