Rigorous registrar in rumpus

November 6, 1998

Dublin. A bizarre row has blown up at Ireland's most prestigious and least-known academic institution - the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. It has resulted in minutes of meetings going unsigned, a legal bill for a Cambridge company not being paid, and cheques for staff signed by the registrar after he was officially suspended.

The institute, which was established in 1940, houses schools of experimental physics, theoretical physics and Celtic studies, all with sound international reputations.

However, it has been beset by problems over the role of the registrar, a former bomb disposal expert in the Irish army.

John Duggan has clashed on several occasions with council chairman Dervilla Donnelly from University College Dublin.

The registrar insists his actions are strictly in accordance with the act that set up the institute and that he is the guardian of the taxpayers' money that funds it. The act does give the registrar extraordinary powers, but doing things strictly by the book has not endeared him to colleagues.

The first rumpus started when he blocked proposed promotions in the Celtic studies school claiming they were improper.

This, and other events, led the council to set up a subcommittee, which was to include two outside academics, to look at his role.

This proposal prompted a sharp rejoinder from the registrar who wrote to the chairman stating: "as for the two outsiders you have enlisted, they shall not be admitted to the institute premises for the purpose suggested".

Matters worsened when he produced legal advice indicating that the institute could not get involved in a software project with a Cambridge company and he refused to pay a bill for around IRPounds 10,000.

The council decided to suspend him. But because minutes of more recent meetings have not been signed for months, the registrar refused to accept the decision, claiming it was invalid. He continued to turn up for work and put his signature on cheques.

The council has appealed to education minister Michael Martin to dismiss him, but three months' notice has to be given, according to the act.

The row looks set to end up in the courts.

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