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Saturday 19 August 2017

Internal audit into Templemore can give 'no assurance' financial management is compliant

  • 'Non transparent' system of accounting
  • Garda staff had no training in handling public financial procedures
  • Evidence of money being spent on gifts and entertainment
  • Non-disclosure of certain bank accounts
Trainee Gardai at the Garda College, Templemore. Photo: Collins
Trainee Gardai at the Garda College, Templemore. Photo: Collins
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

An internal Garda audit report has found large scale financial irregularities in the running of the Garda College.

Among other issues, the report highlighted the use of 48 different bank accounts, giving rise to a non-transparent system of accounting at the college in Templemore, Co Tipperary.

The report, released today, found cash from some accounts was not used for the purpose those accounts existed for.

For example, sums from a laundry account were used to pay for gifts and entertainment.

Land that had been earmarked for college use was rented to local farmers, with the cash used to subsidise the college restaurant, instead of going to the Office of Public Works.

Members of college management also acted as directors of a private company without the permission of the Justice Minister and no records could be found of them ever making ethics declarations.

The revelations heap further pressure on embattled Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, who is to be called before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to discuss the report.

The report is also being referred to the Comptroller & Auditor General.

Many of the concerns were flagged in a previous audit in 2008, but were not acted upon at the time.

Ms O'Sullivan has described the matters raised as legacy issues and insisted that while accounting practices would not be acceptable today, there had been no misappropriation of money or misuse of public funds.

Among its many recommendations, the report said the role of college administrator should be filled by a civil service principal officer with experience of public financial procedures, instead of a Garda superintendent.

All of the recommendations made have been accepted by Garda management.

The report said the Garda Internal Audit Section (GIAS) could give no assurance that internal controls at the college were compliant with public financial procedures.

“GIAS are concerned that the number of accounts and the complex switching of funds between accounts has resulted in a non-transparent system of accounting,” the report said.

“The current system of banking in the college does not lead to transparency and accountability.”

The audit section said many of the issues identified in the report were “serious” and presented “considerable risk to the organisation and should be dealt with in an open and transparent manner”.

Garda staff assigned to administrative roles in the college had no training in or experience of administration and had no knowledge of public financial procedures and other governance codes, it found.

In particular, the report focussed on the operations of a private company set up to hold land on which sporting facilities were located or being developed, the use of accounts linked to the Garda College bar, restaurant and laundry service, and the use of cash from the rental to farmers of college land.

The Garda Síochána Act 2005 prohibits gardaí from being involved in land contracts.

A private company, known as The Garda Síochána Sportsfield Co Ltd, essentially held land for the Garda College and had members of the college’s management as its directors.

The report found that the company should have been dissolved from the commencement of the 2005 Act and the assets transferred to the OPW. This did not happen.

The report said that the legal standing of the directors, who were all part of the college management, was questionable.

Even before 2005 it was questionable whether gardaí as public servants should have been acting as directors of a private company without the permission of the Justice Minister.

Auditors could not find any declarations of interests made by directors of the company, as required under ethics and standards in public office legislation.

The report recommended that the company be wound up and all associated assets, including a golf course should be taken into state control.

The document detailed how accountants who audited the college bar had concerns about its operation.

These were in relation to poor management, including inadequate stock taking and record keeping, rather than any fear money had been misappropriated.

Cash from the college restaurant was spent for purposes other than the running of the restaurant.

This included the hiring of marquees, laundry payments for students, sports field insurance, re-upholstering of chairs, repair of the college tennis courts, the purchase of a utility vehicle, gym mats, expenses for the GAA Sigerson Cup team, the purchase of water pumps for the college swimming pool, and health and safety equipment.

A laundry account was used to pay a staff bonus, meals and entertainment, jewellery and gifts, flowers, as well as contributions to the Garda Boat Club, a golf society, parish clergy and charity.

Loans of up to €500 were issued from the account, but these were promptly repaid.

The report stated rents of €124,903 from the rental of nearby Dromad Farm between 2009 and 2013 should be transferred to the OPW.

The land was purchased for the development of a tactical training centre and a conference centre, but this didn’t happen due to the financial downturn.

It was rented out to local farmers and the money lodged in the college’s restaurant account, even though gardaí did not have the power to rent out the property.

Income from the rental of the land was used for the sponsorship of the Garda Boat Club, entertainment, including restaurant bills, gifts for retirement presentations and charitable donations.

Rental cash was also used to cross-subsidise the Sports Field Co Ltd, pay for insurance, drapes for a graduation, ceremonial flags and printing of display signs.

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