Third level institutions to be questioned over links to spin-off companies

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent

All colleges and universities are to be questioned over their links to spin-off companies involving members of staff amid concerns over financial issues surrounding some firms.

The Dáil's public accounts committee has agreed to take the step after discussions between it, Cork Institute of Technology, the University of Limerick and Waterford Institute of Technology.

CIT officials provided the PAC with a detailed report on the number of on-campus and spin-off firms linked to the college.

However, a number of PAC members raised further questions over the lack of names, staff salary levels and other related matters involving the companies and the college.

Hitting out at what he said were "vague" answers to legitimate questions, Labour TD and PAC deputy chair Alan Kelly said he wants a nationwide examination of the exact situation at all institutions.

"This has taken two years to be brought about. It is not something I feel is acceptable. It's too generic, there are no details in relation to positions. It's vague, it's not what I was expecting and I have concerns," he said.

Mr Kelly's concerns were repeated by Independent TD Catherine Connolly and Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry, who said "this is a response to our queries, but it isn't an answer".

I think we need to replicate this request for all third level institutions - the details of the companies, the governance, the staff cross-over and so on.

"The potential, maybe everything is great, but the potential is there for some of these companies to go and win internal tenders," Mr MacSharry said.

In response to the concerns, PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said he will ask committee officials to write to the Higher Education Authority and all colleges and universities in Ireland seeking specific details about on-campus and spin-off firms involving staff at the institutions.

Comptroller and auditor general, Seamus McCarthy, said the creation of subsidiary and spin-off companies by college and university staff is "very common".

He stressed any company that is set up in this way is legally obliged to strictly adhere to the practices and governance rules of the college or university involved.

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