Monday 21 August 2017

Garda HR boss warned to be 'very careful' of raising concerns

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan Picture: Gerry Mooney

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

A senior Garda boss has sensationally claimed that he was warned to be "very careful" after raising concerns about the "disappearance" of €1.7m at Templemore College.

Head of human resources John Barrett also alleged that he told a two-hour meeting, attended by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, that the force could face accusations of a "cover-up" unless it came clean on the discrepancies.

But in an explosive report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Mr Barrett said he received "considerable push back" after highlighting a series of financial discrepancies.

Mr Barrett's minutes of a crucial meeting completely undermine the account given by the Commissioner at the PAC.

While sitting alongside Mr Barrett last week, Ms O'Sullivan claimed she found out about the financial issues during a "brief meeting" over a cup of tea.

But the documents, seen by the Irish Independent, chart in detail the meeting in July 2015.

Mr Barrett is the executive director of human resources and one of the most senior civil servants within the force.

In a 120-page dossier given to the PAC last night, Mr Barrett gives extensive details of his efforts to raise concerns about gross financial malpractice.

Audits of the Garda training college found a complicated web of company accounts and raised serious concerns about the use of taxpayers' money.

This included the transfer of €100,000 to the garda boat club.

Concerns were also raised about a €125,000 fund used by gardaí to pay for expensive meals in restaurants and retirement gifts for senior officers.

In his report to the PAC, Mr Barrett said he was left "somewhat perplexed" following the meeting after he attempted to raise his concerns about the disappearance of €1.7m from the college's accounts.

"I received considerable push back when I referred to the loss of all books of account prior to a date which coincided with the retirement of a restaurant manager. I was counselled by all others in attendance that 'I needed to be very careful' in making such unproven assertions and connections," the notes stated.

"The Commissioner... concluded 'there was no evidence of misappropriation'."

Mr Barrett described how a senior officer, who he identified as Superintendent Matt Nyland, advised him he "should not get involved in the resolution of these matters" as he was a HR executive director.

"I expressed my deeply held reservations about his approach and why I was clear that I could not and would not close my eyes, as a senior civil servant, to this malpractice which I described as being unacceptable to the organisation and those staff members now in the middle of the maladministration," he said.

Supt Nyland told Mr Barrett, the HR boss said, that it was "up to others" to address the Templemore financial problems.

"I indicated I was troubled by his suggested approach, though I understood the cultural warning, and concern for my personal wellbeing that might be inherent in his suggestion," Mr Barrett said.

The HR director described Supt Nyland's approach as "classically old school".

Mr Barrett said he spent over nine hours compiling his report to the PAC, which will be discussed today.

He said his struggle to have his concerns taken seriously "took considerable toll on my peace of mind".

PAC member and Labour Party TD Alan Kelly said the report raises huge questions for the Commissioner.

Last night, Ms O'Sullivan said Mr Barrett was right in bringing forward his concerns.

"Since then a series of measures have been introduced and are in the process of being introduced. The audit process into Garda College is also continuing."

Irish Independent

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