THE Department of Education never received a copy of a flawed report which claimed university fees could raise €530m a year.
The calculations, carried out by a friend of minister Batt O'Keeffe, were trumpeted in a national newspaper on 15 September boasting of a major "boost to state coffers".
However, by that afternoon, the department of education was already in retreat after realising the figures, compiled by Dr Noel Woods, were seriously flawed.
An email sent from Kevin McCarthy, a director at the department, said: "On first look though, the figures below don't add up. Even if you took the full 10,654 [students] in that bracket paying the max fee of €8,000 that would be of the order of €80m by my calculation – the actual would be a lot less.
"Will need to look at [it] further and would be helpful if there was a paper from Dr Woods/further explanation of the assumptions behind [this]."
An email sent from the special adviser on press and communications, Bernard Mallee, to an official in the department at 1.20pm outlines the origins of the controversial figures.
"Some lines for background use and not attributable to me or the minister," it reads.
"The minister asked UCC economist Dr Noel Woods to look at the kind of revenues that might be generated by introducing third-level fees for particular income categories."
It continues: "Dr Woods estimates that the reintroduction of fees at current levels for those earning direct income of €160,000 or greater would generate in the region of €220m annually when fully operational.
"If fees were reintroduced for those earning €140,000 or greater, this would increase to €290m annually. If fees were reintroduced for those earning €120,000 or greater, this would increase to €530m annually."
Eight minutes later, Mallee advised in another email that the Department of Education should not now make any official statement on the figures.
In an email obtained by the Sunday Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act, he wrote: "I don't think we should get involved in the story but I will need to brief off the record on how Woods came up with his figures.
"Let me know if you have any luck getting hold of him... he'll be getting plenty of calls from journalists today anyway."
The following day, 16 April, an official from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) informed officials from the Department of Education that the €530m annual figure then in the public domain was "wildly inaccurate".
"I attach a note I prepared last week," wrote Muiris O'Connor of the HEA. "It provides a very limited assessment of the revenue that could be generated from a return of fees.
"The modelling is based on our current approach to means assessment. The figures circulating in the media are wildly inaccurate and unhelpful. I can go through my initial estimates at our meeting later today."
Twenty minutes later, Bernard Mallee wrote an email to the government press officer Eoghan
O Neachtain, again outlining the figures, but now with an important caveat.
"In relation to newspaper reports today on projected income generated from third-level fees, the following points are important," he wrote. "The minister asked UCC economist Dr Noel Woods to look at the kind of revenues that might be generated by introducing third-level fees for particular income categories."
Mallee went on to say it would be possible to raise €530m but only "over four years" if fees were re-introduced for people earning more than €120,000.
"The figures are purely designed to inform the debate around third-level fees and should not be taken as indicative of the minister's own views on where the income limits should be set."
An internal email later in the day said: "Bernard Mallee spoke to Noel Woods last night in relations to the fees figures. The €220 million and €530 million are income over a four-year period rather than annualised as reported in the papers.
"The figures are based on average fees per student of €5,000 per annum."