The University of Limerick (UL) has rejected calls by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to launch an independent inquiry into allegations of misconduct at the university.
The allegations concern the treatment of staff members and former employees who drew attention to alleged financial irregularities of human resource management in September 2015. A number of whistleblowers from UL’s finance department have since been suspended from their posts in the university.
Earlier this month, a spokesperson for UL said that there were two claims before the Workplace Relations Commission in relation to employees that had been suspended following their allegations of misconduct.
According to the Irish Times, Chancellor of UL, Mr. Justice John Murray saw the calls for an independent inquiry as evidence of the HEA bowing to political pressure. Moreover, he said that the handling of such matters was an issue for the executive of the university, and that the HEA should respect the autonomy of individual institutions. Mr. Justice Murray called on the HEA to engage further with the university to resolve the situation, as long as this is desirable and falls within the remit of the HEA’s authority.
Previous efforts by the HEA to resolve the ongoing situation were also rejected, notably the Mazars Report published in February of this year. The report set out recommendations for UL to improve their finance and human resources practices.
Following the publication of the Mazars Report, a facilitator was brought into UL by the HEA to attempt to find grounds for the resolution of the dispute. Earlier this month, the Limerick Leader reported that the facilitator had concluded her report, which established that resolution of the situation through normal channels was unlikely to succeed.
The attempts to resolve the dispute in UL are reported to have cost the HEA approximately €80,000, with the Mazars report totalling €69,000 and the subsequent report by the facilitator costing €9,610.
The HEA does not have the statutory power to conduct an inquiry into the alleged misconducts. It is, however, reported to have asked the Department of Education and Skills to consider awarding the Authority new powers to deal with universities who are unwilling to resolve such disputes.