-Union’s and university’s reporting structures unclear

-SU President-elect says SU and University are both responsible for €1million debt that axed student services

-Full accounts to be published on 12th April

-Accounting investigation only goes back as far as 2007

-USI one of UCDSU’s major creditors

UCD Students’ Union may be over €1 million in debt when accounts are published  on April 12,  with claim and counterclaim surrounding who is responsible for, and who will be funding, the debt repayments.

Neither the university nor the current SU President, Pat de Brún, could confirm what university staff member the Union Administrator – a university employee who  played a role in managing the SU’s finances– reported to.

SU President-elect, Rachel Breslin said that she believes both the Union and the university must share responsibility for the debt problem, which has led to the axing of services for students.

The current investigation into the Students’ Union’s accounts by McNally Business Services only extends back to 2007. The Union of Students in Ireland is understood to be one of UCDSU’s major creditors.

UCDSU are expected to apply for a loan when accounts are completed in the coming weeks. Pat de Brún, current SU President stressed that it would be the Students’ Union who would be paying off the debt but said he expected the university to be “very supportive” of the Union.

De Brún did not rule out an increase in funding from the university that would help with loan repayments.

De Brún cites poor structures, that he claims, were “not conducive to proper financial practices” as a key cause of the accumulation of the debt.

Some of the university and Union’s reporting structures are unclear, particularly those pertaining to the position of Union Administrator. The Union Administrator was a university employee, who both the SU and university say was under secondment to the Students’ Union.

The Administrator played a role in managing the SU’s books. The position was abolished recently with the ratification of a new SU constitution as part of an overall reform of the Union.

The Union Administrator did have other administrative responsibilities other than their role in the SU. The former, and final, Union Administrator, Mr. David Carmody remains a university employee but has been on sick leave for some time.

On reporting structures the university state, “the administrative post was under secondment to the Students’ Union, and as such reported to the President of the Students’ Union.”The recently replaced SU constitution also stated that the Union Administrator “shall be directly responsible to the [SU] President.” However de Brún does not believe this was the case in practice.

The accounts may reveal when and how the debt began to accumulate. The full accounts will be presented to the last Union Council of the year on 12th April, according to de Brún.

The accounts were due to be published at an earlier date but de Brún claims delays were caused by the thoroughness of the investigation.

De Brún’s three predecessors, Paul Lynam, Gary Redmond and Aodhan O Dea have all told the College Tribune that during their time in office they were never aware of a substantial debt.

In a statement to the College Tribune Gary Redmond, current Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President and former UCDSU President claimed “at no point during my time as an employee, Vice-President or President of UCDSU did I have any notion that the Students’ Union may have been in any sort of financial difficulty. To be honest I was absolutely shocked when I initially learned that the SU was in serious financial difficulties and flabbergasted when the true scale of the debt began to surface.”

On the position of Union Administrator, Redmond claimed, “as a University employee the SU had no legal or other authority to discipline or review the performance of the [Union] financial administrator.”

De Brún told the College Tribune, “I was a sabbatical officer the year before [this] year and I would never have said that person was reporting to the [SU] President, I never got that impression.”

“You could say the university has a role to play here, you could say the Union has a role to play here. The limbo in which that arrangement existed was not conducive to proper financial practices. The [Union] Administrator was seconded and that did create a lack of oversight for that position and it’s got us in a hell of a mess undoubtedly,” he claimed.

Pat de Brún said his predecessor Paul Lynam told him that “he was beginning to grow concerned” before de Brún took office last July. De Brún said he didn’t think it was a major problem at first, but as more and more creditors began to contact the Union he realised the issue was very serious.

Lynam claims financial issues only came to light in June of last year and said that throughout his year as President he was assured that the SU accounts were healthy.

Current SU Welfare Officer and SU President-elect Rachel Breslin said she believes the SU and the university share responsibility for the accumulation and the payment of the debt. “The college is responsible because there is a member of the college staff who is also part of our accounting team and the expenses had to go through. So absolutely, it is the SU because the SU were the people that were spending the money but also the college because of staff members involvement there,” Breslin claimed at a SU election hustings last month.

Accountants working to bring the SU accounts up to date will also compile a report which is expected to outline how they believe the debt accumulated.

No regrets over copy bureau closure, says de Brun
De Brún also told the College Tribune he believes closing the SU copy bureau before Christmas was the right decision. Responding to a common criticism leveled against him, that he should have waited until all the accounts were completed before closing the bureau de Brún said; “I don’t regret it, it wouldn’t have changed anything apart from our debt would have gotten bigger.

It was a very simple one in that the copy bureau only had three suppliers altogether and then the staff costs so it was extremely simple to figure out where it was [..] when it comes to the shops you have hundreds of suppliers” and said it was much more complex in comparison.

However de Brún did speak about how difficult it was to make long term Union staff redundant. “it’s horrible, it’s something I hope I never have to do again. It still upsets me to a certain extent but at the same time I don’t regret the decision. At the time and since it’s caused me quite a few sleepless nights.

The implications are very far reaching, it’s not something that a twenty one year old would like to do or anyone would like to do really but that was the situation we were faced with.”

Donie O’Sullivan

[email protected]getribune.ie