Trinity provost John Hegarty

Ireland's university staff have received recent pay increases of up to 19%, the Sunday Tribune can reveal. And because the rise was due to be implemented two years ago, many top-brass and professors are currently receiving backdated payments as well. The huge increases at a time of widespread cutbacks in the education sector have been criticised by the Irish Federation of University Teachers.

The pay rises were previously recommended by the 2007 O'Brien Review into Higher Remuneration. However, the review found that no such payment could be cleared until all universities cancelled a series of unauthorised allowances that were also being paid to staff.

University College Dublin (UCD) recently announced it had abolished 60 of these allowances.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Education, "Those pay increases recommended for the staff in universities were cleared a while ago, but they were only to be paid out where it was understood there wasn't an unauthorised allowance in place. After that, each of the professors and staff were assessed on a case-by-case basis and where we were satisfied, the pay increase has now been awarded. A very small number of residual cases are still to be resolved," he said.

This means over 400 professors in Ireland are in the process of receiving a pay increase of 5.5%. Bursars and secretaries will receive a rise of up to 5.1%, and presidents such as Hugh Brady at UCD and John Hegarty, the provost of Trinity College Dublin, a rise of 19%.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance confirmed that now the unauthorised allowances have been cleared. "The Department of Education is in a position to award the rises," he said. He added however that the funding for the rises would not be coming from the Department of Finance, saying, "If universities can manage it in their own budgets, then so be it."

Mike Jennings, general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), strongly criticised the large increases to be paid to university heads. "This shows that the decision of those university heads to forfeit their allowances was really not a selfless act, but more of a pragmatic decision in order to achieve those high increases recommended by the O'Brien report."

Jennings also maintained that those who were in receipt of the pay rise of up to 19% had a "hugely unfair advantage" over others when it comes to the controversial issue of pay cuts. "How can the government have in mind a uniform rate of pay cuts across the board when we have people in receipt of such huge rises? Even if they take the cut, they are not suffering the way those who never received an increase are."

One union source added to the debate saying: "These university heads obviously have a completely over-inflated sense of their own importance."

Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe recently expressed his anger that university heads were still unwilling to take a voluntary pay cut. He said, "I would have exhorted the university presidents to take the appropriate cut. One would have expected that people in such senior positions would do the right thing."