John Deasy has told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee that it was wrong to pin the blame for all the financial problems at Waterford Institute of Technology on former president Kieran Byrne.
He said: “On a personal level I think Mr Byrne was dealt with very badly. I think that ultimately all the issues which came about in WIT were lumped together and dumped on his doorstep, and it was unfair.”
“When you look at the documentation and the history of this, Kieran Byrne did a lot of good when it came to the institute and I think that’s been forgotten,” stated Mr Deasy, who is the PAC’s vice-chairman.
He said the entire responsibility had been laid in Mr Byrne’s direction. “He became the scapegoat frankly for a lot of things which went wrong in the institute and I think that was extremely unfair.”
In his opinion, “with regard to how he was dealt with personally by the Higher Education Authority, there are questions to be answered.”
With the non-renewal of Mr Byrne’s contract currently subject to legal proceedings, Mr Deasy said “it will probably be the court that determines that” — but “as the facts leak out” as to how he was dealt with, “it’s becoming more troubling frankly … and I’m not the only member of this committee who’s forming that opinion.”
Turning to the completion of the Carriganore sports complex — which, WIT President Willie Donnelly told the committee, will start next week and be completed by June — Deputy Deasy said this was very good news.
He said financial management at WIT has been regularised and since Mr Donnelly’s appointment in April he had “contributed an awful lot to that”. The institute was now at the point of being able to move on with the southeast university application process.
He said he and PAC chairman John McGuinness shared the view that it’s important “to draw a line under the issues that have dogged the institute” in the recent past, and I think that has been achieved … which is extremely positive.”
Mr Donnelly told Deputy Deasy he has “a very good relationship” with his IT Carlow counterpart. The previous merger discussions “fell apart before because the foundation wasn’t there” and “we want to get it right” this time round in order to develop “a university of real quality for the region.”
Deasy: Work to start within a couple of weeks
Waterford TD John Deasy says loan finance is to be made available by Government to finish phase 3 of the stalled Carriganore Sports Complex.
Work is to commence within the next fortnight and will be completed in June.
Deputy Deasy, who is vice-chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, had called on the State to step in to facilitate the completion of the complex, work on which ground to a halt over three years ago.
The PAC recently received documents indicating that costs will be significantly more than anticipated. In a report, Eugene McKenna, former CEO of Diverse Campus Services — the company tasked with delivering the project — blamed leadership and governance issues for work stopping in 2012.
While he wouldn’t disagree with that analysis, John Deasy says it’s important to “move on and ensure that the uncertainty surrounding the project was ended.
“Myself and the chairman John McGuinness have made it clear at the committee that leaving the building like it is simply isn’t an option. When the Higher Education Authority appeared before us last January it estimated the shortfall at €5m. The Department of Education had already committed €2.9m to the project but a realistic means of financing the remainder needed to be found.”
The HEA has already said WIT “overstretched” in advancing its own independent building programme before running into funding problems. The Phase 3 ‘Carriganore Arena’ element was meant to cost €9.7m. But financing issues arose within the college after €6.5m was spent and the multi-purpose building is still largely idle and incomplete.
When the Department was at the committee in September it indicated that a loan was being looked at. This financing has now been agreed on terms that are manageable. Deputy Deasy says the priority is to finish what’s been started, regardless of the various legacy issues.
“The PAC has been dealing with the Department for the past year on this and the WIT debt situation. I think there was a realisation from officials that the State needed to step in and give the Institute a helping hand.”
The Fine Gael TD said new WIT president Willie Donnelly “has steadied the ship and we’re close to being on the right track, finally, to becoming a university, which is the most important thing.”