The excessive cost of the independent investigation into plagiarism at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) was raised at the latest sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Dáil Éireann.
PAC Chairman, John McGuinness queried secretary general of the Department of Education, Seán Ó Foghlú, and Tom Boland, chief executive officer of the Higher Education Authority, why they had not responded to questions raised by Galway East Fianna Fáil TD, Colm Keaveney.
The cost to the taxpayer of the external investigation, which lasted over two years, is close-on €500,000. The figure includes legal fees and pay rates of €187.58 per hour, at a daily rate of no more than €1,500, for the independent investigators.
Deputy Keaveney last year wrote to PAC, urging it to investigate the waste of public money on this investigation.
The letter said there are two issues that Deputy Keaveney believes warrant public oversight by the PAC: the prudential spending of public monies in the context of the inquiry itself; and that academic standards are not being sufficiently adhered to within a third level body in receipt of large amounts of public money.
“I believe that both of these issues are deserving of investigation by the Committee of Public Accounts. The Minister for Education in his response to me in the Dáil seems to indicate that he is of the same mind in this regard,” said Deputy Keaveney in his letter to PAC at the time.
This month, Deputy McGuinness sought an update, from Mr Ó Foghlú and Mr Boland, who faced questioning at the committee on a wide range of education issues relating to third level.
When Mr McGuinness asked the witness to name institutes where there are issues with governance, Mr Boland name-checked Letterkenny, Tralee, and Cork. He added: “There were issues to do with examinations and an inquiry was being conducted in GMIT.”
Later in the hearing, Mr Ó Foghlú was asked to clarify why he had not updated PAC on the questions raised by Deputy Keaveney.
Mr Ó Foghlú said he had updated the committee last May.
“Yes, but that was May 15, 2014 and there were a number of questions to be answered. The representatives might reflect on that after the meeting. Those questions were not answered,” said Deputy McGuinness.
Mr Ó Foghlú agreed he would update the committee again on the situation at GMIT once the HEA receives an update from the college following a meeting of its Governing Body.
The Governing Body met last week.
The Public Accounts Committee is best known for its work on the DIRT inquiry. It is an Oireachtas body set up to ensure there is accountability and transparency in the way Government agencies allocate, spend and manage their finances.