Irish institute could close

June 7, 2002

Four departments at Queen's University, Belfast (pictured), are facing run-down or closure as a serious cash crisis develops.

Its world-famous Institute of Irish Studies is one of the departments under threat, along with ancient and classical history, Byzantine studies and philosophy.

And a £60 million redevelopment plan for the students union building has been indefinitely postponed because the university has been unable to raise the cash.

It is believed about 30 academic posts could be involved in a new round of redundancies.

Esmond Birnie, chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly's employment and learning committee, sought an urgent meeting with employment and learning minister Carmel Hanna.

He said: "Any reduction in courses, staff or student intake would have a negative effect on the whole community. Should this be true, it is a very worrying development."

Queen's said it would not comment on individual departments and a report would be sent to the senate soon.

But senior sources said the departments had suffered falling student numbers and were seriously overspent on their budgets. The crisis is also said to have been precipitated after Queen's concentrated much of its resources, allegedly spending £25 million of its reserves to boost its grades in the research league tables.

Steven King, an adviser to first minister David Trimble who is on Queen's senate, said: "The Institute of Irish Studies is a five-star department, and it is one of the strongest research departments in the university. It is costing the university a very small amount of money relatively speaking, and it would be an appalling act against Ireland if Queen's was to close the department."

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