Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Public Accounts Committee

2020 Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts
University of Limerick Financial Report 2020

9:30 am

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome everyone to the meeting. No apologies have been received. Please note that to limit the risk of spreading Covid-19, the service encourages all members, visitors and witnesses to continue to wear face masks when moving around the campus or when in close proximity to others, to be respectful of other people’s physical space and to adhere to any other public health advice. When people are speaking, obviously they can take off their masks.

Members of the committee attending remotely must continue to do so from within the precincts of Leinster House. This is due to the constitutional requirement that to participate in public meetings, members must be physically present within the confines of the place where Parliament has chosen to sit.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, is a permanent witness to the committee. He is accompanied by Mr. Peter Kinsley, deputy director of audit, from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

This morning, we engage with the University of Limerick, UL, to examine its 2020 financial statements. The university has been advised that the committee may also wish to examine the following matters to which the Comptroller and Auditor General has drawn attention: non-compliant procurement; the purchase of a site for the city campus, formerly known as the Dunnes Stores site; the overriding of controls; and the president’s remuneration. UL has also been advised the committee might wish to examine the fact the Department had withheld capital funding until certain governance issues have been resolved.

We are joined in the committee room by the following officials from the university: Professor Kerstin Mey, president; Ms Mary Harney, chancellor; and Mr. Gary Butler, chief financial performance officer. We are also joined by the following officials from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science: Mr. Keith Moynes, assistant secretary with responsibility for the higher education policy division; and Ms Emma Leonard, principal officer with responsibility for the climate action and capital planning unit.

As usual, I remind all those in attendance to ensure their mobile phones are on silent mode or switched off.

Before we start, I wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practices of the House as regards references witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. As such witnesses are within the precincts of Leinster House, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentations they make to the committee. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they may say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse that privilege and it is my duty as Cathaoirleach to ensure it is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, the witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative that they comply with such directions.

Members are reminded of the provisions of Standing Order 218 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government, or the merits or objective of such policies. Members are also reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, to make his opening statement.