Thursday 20 July 2017

Civilians in key Garda positions highlight conflict at top of the force

Under Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act there is an obligation on a Garda commissioner to report certain serious matters to the Justice Minister. Stock picture
Under Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act there is an obligation on a Garda commissioner to report certain serious matters to the Justice Minister. Stock picture
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Major fault lines have emerged between uniformed Garda management and senior civilian members of the force. These revolve around the issues of breath test statistics, homicide figures and financial irregularities at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary.

Breath tests

Gardaí announced in March that a nationwide audit had discovered major discrepancies between the number of roadside alcohol breath tests recorded on the Pulse system and the number of breath testing devices provided by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

The examination indicated around a million tests were recorded which never actually took place.

The process used to come up with the figures was described as an "audit", both in a press release and at a Garda press conference.

But the head of the Garda audit unit, Niall Kelly, informed the Policing Authority in recent days that his team had not checked the figures and the formal rigours of an audit process had not been involved.

Now Garda sources admit the word "audit" was not used correctly, but insisted there was no deliberate attempt to present the report as a detailed examination.

An independent audit is now being commissioned by the Policing Authority, while a separate examination is being undertaken by Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan.

Homicide figures

Last week the head of Garda data analysis, Gurchand Singh, contacted the Policing Authority as he was concerned the wrong impression had been given to it about a report on homicide figures.

A review of the figures was conducted in the wake of the breath test fiasco and some minor inaccuracies were found. When the issue was discussed at a Policing Authority hearing last month, Assistant Commissioner Eugene Corcoran said there was a "united" approach to the review of the cases by gardaí and members of data analysis division. However, Mr Singh told the authority that while his staff did the analysis, the report was not his work and had not been given to him to read before it was submitted.

Templemore finances

Perhaps the most explosive of the three flashpoints has been in relation to a meeting in Templemore in June 2015, where Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan was informed of major financial irregularities at the Garda Training College.

Ms O'Sullivan told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) the meeting she had with the force's executive director for human resources, John Barrett, was a brief exchange over a cup of tea.

But he contradicted this immediately, saying it had lasted two hours.

His account was supported by detailed minutes and other documents which he submitted to the committee.

The PAC also heard while Ms O'Sullivan immediately set up a steering group to look into the issues raised, it would be a further eight months before the Garda internal audit unit was appointed to investigate.

The head of the unit, Mr Kelly, also told the PAC he deleted a critical paragraph from a 2011 report, in which he had stated the audit unit could not give assurances in regard to financial controls in place at the Garda college.

He said he removed the paragraph after receiving assurances that action was being taken.

Mr Kelly told the PAC he now felt he was "duped". "There was a culture of circling the wagons and I got caught trying to bang into the wagons," he said.

Under Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act there is an obligation on a Garda commissioner to report certain serious matters to the Justice Minister.

The PAC was told the Garda's head of legal services, Ken Ruane, advised Ms O'Sullivan that the problems in Templemore may warrant a report to the minister.

But Ms O'Sullivan did not do so for 15 months. She told the PAC she did not believe she had sufficient information at the time.

Irish Independent

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