The University of Limerick has asked consultants KPMG to investigate the purchase by the university of land in Limerick city centre known as the Dunnes Stores site, the Public Accounts Committee has been told.
The University's interim president Prof Kerstin Mey confirmed that the university had no record of any written independent valuation related to the purchase, and she told the committee that a procurement process related to the contract of the consultant involved in purchase of the site was non-compliant.
UL paid around €8 million for the Dunnes Stores site in 2019. It later emerged that it had been valued at €3 million just two years earlier.
The university intends using the block to develop a city centre campus.
The Public Accounts Committee was looking at the university’s financial statements for 2019. It heard that while UL has no written valuation for the Dunnes Stores site, there is correspondence between the valuer and the consultant who oversaw the purchase.
To repeated questioning around the lack of a formal written valuation, Dr Mey repeatedly said that the matter would be looked at by KPMG.
Deputies were told that the KPMG investigation, which will focus on governance surrounding the purchase, would be completed "relatively soon" and would be made available to the committee.
Dr Mey agreed that best practice had not been adhered to. She also acknowledged that the university had received a protected disclosure in relation to the transaction.
She said that the procurement process related to the appointment of the consultant who oversaw the purchase was non-compliant and that this had been communicated to KPMG.
She agreed also that another site in Limerick city centre, known as the opera site, had initially been the preferred site for purchase by the university.
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Asked why the plan had changed so suddenly, Dr Mey said it was because the Dunnes Stores site, which was of great interest strategically, was not available initially for sale but subsequently became available.
Dr Mey said the former Dunnes Stores building was currently undergoing mitigation works in order for it to open for operations this coming September. She said master planning for the site would begin as soon as possible.
During a session lasting more than two hours, deputies also heard of arrangements that were made to pay former president Dr Des Fitzgerald, who resigned last summer, until the end of the year.
It heard how Dr Fitzgerald's contract did not have a notice period and that €35,000 was spent in legal fees before this was agreed. The university’s HR director Andrew Flaherty acknowledged that it was unusual to need legal involvement in a situation such as this.
There was surprise when Dr Fitzgerald announced his intention in May of last year to step down. He said at the time that he had taken the decision "in the context of Covid-19".