THE almost €13,000 in costs for a retirement function for the previous president of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) was signed off by the president himself before his departure from the college, it has emerged.
The Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Dáil Public Accounts Committee are both seeking an explanation from CIT about the spending.
As originally reported by the Evening Echo, CIT spent €12,931.55 on events to mark the retirement of Dr Brendan Murphy, who left his position as president of the institution at the end of August.
A statement from the HEA said: “Although there are no specific guidelines in relation to expenditure for retirement events, the HEA does expect CIT as a public body to be cognisant of value for money and the costs associated with such events, including, where appropriate, compliance with public procurement guidelines as well as the public perception of the costs of such events.
“The HEA shares the concern expressed at the Public Accounts Committee today about the level of expenditure incurred and that the outgoing President signed off on some of this expenditure and we are currently following up with the Institute to seek a full explanation in this regard.” The Echo’s original report was brought to the attention of the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson Sean Fleming, who requested that CIT explain the reasoning behind the function.
“I think the student hardship fund would have benefitted more from that €13,000 than a banquet to celebrate a retiring official,” Deputy Fleming said at the time.
In a letter to the Committee, interim president of CIT Dr Barry O’Connor advised that Dr Murphy was involved in approving the function and its associated costs.
“The function was approved by President Murphy and costs were signed off on by President Murphy and the Facilities Management retrospectively as outlined in the attached cost breakdown,” President O’Connor wrote.
According to President O’Connor’s letter, Dr Murphy directly approved the costs for catering and the music for the function as well as for a president’s dinner for senior staff totalling €7,431.58.
However, CIT’s subsidiary company CIT Student Services Co Ltd., provided the catering on the night.
“The purpose of the evening was to acknowledge Dr. Murphy’s contribution and commitment to CIT over the course of his career here, which spanned more than 40 years,” Dr O’Connor wrote.
“The function provided a valuable opportunity to showcase CIT to these guests who have had, and will continue to have a significant impact on the development of CIT. The floor service on the night was provided by students of CIT’s Tourism and Hospitality Department, and the music was performed by students of CIT Cork School of Music.” Following the clarification from CIT, there have been calls for the Department of Education to clamp down on the use of taxpayers' money for retirement functions.
Fianna Fail Deputy Marc MacSharry said normally a circular would go around when a colleague is leaving asking people for a contribution.
"Would that not be better that instead of approving €13,000 for your own party if you happen to be the president of an institution, with €5,500 for the tables, frames, drapes, carpets and audio visual set-up?” The Department currently has no guidelines regarding the retirement of senior staff, according to Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills Seán Ó Foghlú.
"It wouldn't be the normal for departments or agencies to have retirement parties for staff. However there would be a recognition that when a senior leader of an organisation would be leaving after a number of years that it would be appropriate to be celebrate.” "It is not something we have a guideline on. It's important for the institution in question to recognise the achievements of a leader over a period of time."
Deputy MacSharry asked the Department to issue a circular to those responsible for spending money within the third level sector.
"If €13,000 can be thrown away on ice sculptors for a party to acknowledge the greatness of somebody, that the person himself was the person acknowledged and saying that it was okay to spend that money, then I am saying that is wrong."