Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Public Accounts Committee

Financial Statements of the Higher Education Authority 2013
General Report No. 85 of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Accountability and Governance on the National College of Art and Design

10:00 am

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Obviously, the oversight or lack of oversight by the Higher Education Authority is the issue we are discussing here. The other members of the committee have dealt with that. I do not want to stick with that. I am going to get into the merger between the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow. The historic governance issues within Waterford Institute of Technology, which have been very well publicised over the past few years, have been dealt with by this committee for a number of years. We had recommendations issued to us a few months ago with regard to the institute. It is fair to say - we can ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to comment on this - that governance issues in the institute which have been going on for a couple of years have been dealt with, most recently last year. It seems to me that this being is the case - it is well known, documented and publicised - the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Skills would have paid particular attention to a merger process that has amounted to €380,000 or €400,000. I was struck by the fact that the merger process involving Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Tralee has cost significantly less than that. By all accounts, the merger process in the Cork and Tralee case is more successful and is continuing.

We have a remit. We have absolute jurisdiction to ask what happened with regard to this merger process. What went wrong? Mr. Boland has characterised the case of the National College of Art and Design as "certainly not an attractive picture". I suggest there is more than one unattractive picture here. I am thinking of the now failed attempt to merge the institutes of technology in Waterford and Carlow. I will ask Mr. Ó Foghlú and Mr. Boland about that merger process. I want them to start by bringing us through it from point to point. Can they set out their personal, professional and organisational involvement? How did it begin? How did their involvement proceed? Why did it break down? It is particularly interesting for me because if I am correct - maybe the Comptroller and Auditor General can back me up - it was mentioned in a recommendation that the involvement of the Higher Education Authority was lacking in the case of previous issues, including financial issues, when it came to Waterford Institute of Technology. There was a lack of communication on a number of different fronts. As a substantial amount of public money was spent on the merger process, I need to ask what kind of interaction, communication, involvement and oversight occurred within the Higher Education Authority with regard to that process. I ask Mr. Ó Foghlú and Mr. Boland to run through where we are at.

Call it a brick wall or a Mexican stand-off that is where we are and it is not a good situation.