Two whistleblowers, known only as B and C, have requested a meeting with the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) regarding the findings of a report on the University of Limerick (UL).
The report was commissioned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and examined concerns relating to several practices by UL, including the mismanagement of severance payments and handling of staff disputes. The report concluded that UL’s severance payments, which were revealed to be worth over €1.7 million, were in breach of public pay guidelines.
The two whistleblowers announced they were “absolutely stunned” that the report did not contain any negative findings in relation to how their cases were handled. They allege that vital evidence was dismissed by a UL official investigating their complaints and that another official from the university who adjudicated on their appeal had not met or contacted them.
Dr Richard Thorn, president emeritus of the Institute of Technology, Sligo (IT Sligo), was appointed in early 2017 to investigate allegations against the university. The claims were first raised against the university by three whistleblowers in 2012. Whistleblowers B and C, along with another whistleblower Leona O’Callaghan, were suspended from the university. The suspensions of B and C were lifted in November 2017 following recommendations by the Thorn report.
B and C wish to meet with members of the Dáil Public Accounts committee, which has been examining the staff and payment issues at UL. In a letter to the committee, they say that they are “not sure what to believe from the HEA” and that they have been made repeated promises which “did not happen”.
Whistleblower C has noted that she informed Dr Thorn of a witness who allegedly overheard UL staff planning to submit false information which would frame C as a bully. C also says she informed Dr Thorn of another witness whom she said could provide evidence about a culture of bullying within her department.
C says that neither witness was contacted by Dr Thorn during the course of the investigation.
The whistleblowers have also criticised the report for failing to address the whistleblowers’ claim that their relationship with UL deteriorated after they declined to accept offers of unsolicited severance packages.
Additionally, the whistleblowers expressed dismay with Dr Thorn’s finding that they were unwise in pursuing a Garda complaint against the partner of a former work colleague. The complaint related to threatening and abusive language at a Christmas party in the Strand Hotel in 2014. C noted that the finding was surprising given a culture of “victim shaming” which leads some people to be afraid of reporting issues to the Gardaí, according to C.
The report by Dr Thorn concluded that at least one allegation the whistleblowers had made in relation in the rehiring of recently retired staff was sustained. It also found that the whistleblowers were correct in raising concerns about other issues.
A third whistleblower, Leona O’Callaghan, has expressed that she has witnessed little change as a result of the report and that “there’s no one who’s been held to account”. O’ Callaghan initially noticed discrepancies in UL’s finance department when she was placed in charge of verifying expense claims.
A follow-up report on the inquiry into UL which dealt with the rehire and consultancy arrangements for particular members of staff who received severance packages from the university was issued earlier this year. The HEA decided to abstain from publishing the follow-up report on account of several people referenced in the report being involved in ongoing High Court proceedings. Matters relating to these people are prohibited from public discussion.