Friday 23 June 2017

Gardai used secret taxpayer fund to buy meals and gifts

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A damning internal Garda report has found serious mismanagement of public funds by the Garda Training College in Templemore, the Sunday Independent can exclusively reveal.

The report, compiled by Garda auditors, discovered a secret €125,000 fund created by staff using taxpayers' money which was used to buy expensive meals in local restaurants and retirement gifts for senior officers.

The revelation will add further pressure on Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan who is currently the focus of allegations she was involved in a smear campaign against garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

It has also emerged this weekend that Sgt McCabe has been on stress leave from the force since April.

Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who last week established a judge-led inquiry into the smear campaign allegations, is also understood to be aware of the internal audit of the Garda College.

The audit discovered rental income from the leasing of farm land associated with the training facility was held in a bank account linked to the college's restaurant.

However, according to the report, the leasing of these fields is not the responsibility of the college, but rather it should have been handled by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The report said the rental income collected from the Dromad Farm land between 2009 and 2013 should be transferred to the OPW as it is the legal owner of the land.

There was a moratorium on new recruits for most of this period but the college was still used for upskilling members and working on operational training routines.

The money in the Garda College account was used to buy a €433 present for a superintendent who was transferring to another division, and €340 was spent on the retirement of an assistant commissioner.

A further €740 was spent on a meal in the Fiacri Country House Restaurant in Tipperary where the €50 set dinner menu includes deep fried panko-coated squid for starters, followed by sirloin steak with a mushroom and cognac sauce.

Another €412 was spent in Murphy's Restaurant in Templemore, while €440 was marked for entertainment costs. The audit also raises serious concerns about dozens of bank accounts associated with the training college and called for them to be immediately closed and all expenditure should be centralised.

It recommends that gardai who are directors of companies linked to the college should be reminded of their legal obligations and make appropriate declarations with the Standard in Public Office Commission (SIPO).

A Garda spokesman confirmed Commissioner O'Sullivan has a draft copy of the report.

"Following a recent Garda internal audit, a number of legacy issues associated with the provision of ancillary services in the Garda College, Templemore, have been identified which are not in compliance with current public standard corporate governance procedures," he said.

The spokesman insisted the audit has not been finalised.

"However, as is normal practice, the matter was brought to the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) and a statement in relation to this matter was included in the 2015 appropriation account of An Garda Siochana, recently published by the C&AG," he added.

He said gardai plan to comply with the recommendations made in the report to ensure it is in compliance with public financial procedures.

Commissioner O'Sullivan was a superintendent in the Garda College for three years between 2000 and 2003. The audit did not cover this time period. Last night, Public Accounts Committee chairman Sean Fleming confirmed he will be seeking answers from the Commissioner at the next hearing she attends.

The Commissioner is also likely to be interviewed by former Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill who has been tasked by Minister Fitzgerald with investigating claims of a plot to discredit Sgt McCabe. The allegations were made by the former head of the Garda press office Superintendent David Taylor.

Supt Taylor claims Commissioner O'Sullivan and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan were aware of the campaign against Sgt McCabe. Ms O'Sullivan denies any involvement.

Sunday Independent

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