June 17, 2021
Mary Harney should answer questions over University of Limerick purchase of Dunnes Stores site – Brian Stanley TD

Public Accounts Committee chairperson Brian Stanley TD has called for the University of Limerick Chancellor Mary Harney to step in and answer questions regarding the €8m purchase of the former Dunnes Stores site after a frustrating committee hearing today.

The committee was told that there is no evidence or record whatsoever of an independent valuation by the university of the site prior to its  acquisition.

Speaking after the hearing, Teachta Stanley said:

“It was unfortunate that Chancellor Harney was not in attendance at the Public Accounts Committee this morning for an examination of the University of Limerick’s (UL) financial statement.

“At the centre of today’s hearing was the €8m purchase of the former Dunnes Stores site by the university in 2019. The acquisition occurred during the Chancellor’s time at the University, and it would perhaps have been appropriate to have had her presence at the meeting.

“Unfortunately, Professor Kerstin Mey, the Interim President, who only took up her current position in September 2020, took the lead this afternoon and was not in a position to provide the committee with all of the details we sought.

“Frustratingly, following today’s hearing, many of the questions raised remain unanswered.

“However, we did learn today that there is no evidence or record whatsoever of an independent valuation by the university of the Dunnes Stores site prior to its purchase. 

“This is a startling revelation, which underlines a lack of good governance or due diligence around the purchase.

“We need to know from Chancellor Harney why no such valuation was carried out, and if this is common practice. Did anyone on the board raise concerns about this lack of oversight?

“Secondly, the site was purchased for €8m, despite the site being valued at just €3.5m two years previously by the Limerick and City Council. We need to know why UL paid more than double the existing site valuation.

“Thirdly, it was confirmed today by President Mey that the consultant and negotiator of the Dunnes Stores purchase was appointed through a non-compliant procurement process. That is unacceptable. This matter has since been passed on to the Comptroller and Auditor General for review.

“Finally, a costed development plan was submitted by UL to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for the purchase of the Limerick Opera Site. 

“No such costed development plan was provided to the HEA following UL’s decision to switch from the Opera site to the Dunnes Stores purchase. We need to find out why this switch occurred, how quickly it happened and why no costed plan was produced.

“Today’s session provided more questions than answers. I thank the members of UL for their attendance this afternoon. However, serious questions remain for those who were in place during the purchase of the Dunnes Stores site.” 

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