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Former president of Waterford Institute of Technology sues over not being reappointed to position in 2011

Aodhan O'Faolain

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Aodhan O'Faolain

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Former president of Waterford Institution of Technology sues over not being reappointed to position in 2011

The former president of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) Professor Kieran Byrne has claimed before the High Court he was humiliated and his reputation damaged after the college's governing body declined to reappoint him to the post.

The decision not to reappoint Prof Byrne as WIT president was taken after a newspaper published an article concerning the level of expenditure of WIT's President's Office during his tenure. 

Arising out of the decision, he has brought proceedings against WIT where he seeks damages and various declarations.

WIT rejects the claims and denies any wrongdoing, and the decision of its governing body decision not to reappoint him was done following a fully transparent process.

It denied representing to Prof Byrne that he had been reappointed and rejects his claims the process was flawed.

Opening the case, Ercus Stewart SC appearing with Elaine Power Bl for Professor Byrne said his client was appointed WIT president in 2001 for 10 years.

A subcommittee of the WIT's governing body was set up to oversee the selection of president from May 2011 onwards.

Counsel said the subcommittee, after speaking to several parties, recommended that Prof Byrne be reappointed for another five years.

Counsel said that recommendation was not ratified by WIT's governing body at a meeting on May 12, 2011.

Counsel said in April 2011 an article appeared in the Irish Examiner newspaper about expenses incurred by the Office of President of WIT. The article referred to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Counsel said a meeting of the WIT governing body, where Prof Byrne was due to be ratified, took place the day after the article appeared. Counsel said there was disquiet about the media report. 

The decision to ratify his appointment was deferred and Prof Byrne was subsequently informed an independent review of the expenditure was to take place.

Counsel said it has always been his client's case that the accounting methods used in responding to the FOI request were unorthodox and resulted in inaccurate records of expenditure. 

Counsel said that in advance of the governing body's meeting in May 2011,  his client was encouraged to resign by a member of the Higher Education Authority, which he refused to do.

On May 12 the governing body declined to ratify Prof Byrne as WIT president for another five years, and the position was advertised.

While Prof Byrne remained on as a member of WIT's management, counsel said his client felt he had been treated in a humiliating and disrespectful manner by the institute and he exercised his option to retire, counsel said. 

WIT, represented by Mark Connaughton SC and Tom Mallon Bl, deny the claims. Counsel said the decision was always the governing body's and it had acted at all times in a transparent manner during the selection process.

Counsel said that it was accepted the media reports were considered by the governing body in its decision added that a factor in the governing bodies decision was that it was not happy with the applications it received for what was such an important post and opted to expand the recruitment process.

In reply to Mr Justice, Senan Allen counsel accepted that the contents of the media report concerning the expenditure of the President's office were something the defendant took into account when arriving at its decision.

In his proceedings against WIT Prof Byrne of Leoville, Dunmore Road, Waterford claims there was a failure to conduct the selection process properly.

WIT also took irrelevant considerations into account when it decided not to ratify his reappointment and had represented and assured him that it would reappoint him, he claims.

WIT also failed to have any regard to the fact that no internal or external audit was critical on his presidency of WIT and had failed to heed his concerns about the accounting methods used to respond to the FOI requests.

He also claims there was a failure to allow him to make representations to the governing body about the media coverage and the FOI requests.

He seeks declarations that the governing body's decision not to ratify his appointment as president was null and void and that he was entitled to be appointed to the position, and that WIT has acted in breach of constitutional justice and fair procedures.

He also seeks damages for negligence and breach of duty, breach of contract and the damage he suffered to his good name, breach of legitimate expectation and misrepresentation.

The case continues.