College head loses bid to keep job in wake of expenses row

Professor Kieran Byrne has failed in his bid for re-appointment as president of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in the wake of revelations over high spending by his office.

It included the use of taxis for 200-mile (322km) round trips between Waterford and Dublin as well as hospitality expenses amounting to €290,000 over seven years.

It is a dramatic turnabout in fortunes for Prof Byrne, who has been WIT president for 10 years and championed the college’s case for university status.

Up to yesterday, Prof Byrne was the sole nominee for the post, which had been publicly advertised. He was recommended by a sub committee set up as part of the selection process.


However, Prof Byrne’s road to re-appointment became mired in controversy as questions were asked about spending authorised by his office between 2004 and 2011.

The Waterford Colleges branch of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) had submitted a Freedom of Information request to establish that funding was being diverted to priority areas.

The detailed spending breakdown was provided to the TUI last Friday.

Yesterday, the day before the information was released to the TUI, the governing body postponed a decision on Prof Byrne’s re-appointment and called in the accountancy firm Deloitte to review budgetary spending procedures.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA), the funding arm for higher education, had been monitoring the situation, and earlier this week HEA chief executive Tom Boland sought a report from WIT on the outcome of the Deloitte review.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was advised of unfolding events earlier this week and on Wednesday issued a statement letting his interest be known. The minister has no role in the affairs of the governing body.

Speaking to the Irish Independent on Wednesday, Prof Byrne defended the spending and said “in order to accumulate you have to invest”.

He said the seven years involved were busy at the college, and included a high-profile campaign for university status.

He conceded that he made regular use of taxis for trips to Dublin, but said he did not claim personal mileage expenses, and he also travelled by train.

A statement issued by the governing body last night made no reference to the spending controversy.

It said that given the strategic nature of the appointment, at a time of change and challenge in the third-level sector, the board had decided to broaden its search.

Prof Byrne’s contract expires today and he may remain as a member of management at the institute.

Mr Tony McFeely, secretary/ financial controller of WIT, has been appointed as interim president by the Governing Body.

– Katherine Donnelly

Irish Independent

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