Thursday 17 August 2017

Money trail could take Garda into difficult territory

Management rows, funding probes and a change of Taoiseach do not bode well for Noirin O'Sullivan, writes Maeve Sheehan

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Mark Condren
Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Mark Condren
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Follow the money; the mantra is assiduously followed by police enforcement agencies the world over. Including An Garda Siochana.

Since the scandals of financial mismanagement at Templemore training college, An Garda Siochana has been on the wrong side of the money trail.

The man on the trail is Niall Kelly, the head of the Garda's internal audit and, importantly, a civilian. Where the trail will lead is anyone's guess.

Kelly was one of six civilian managers in An Garda Siochana who appeared before the Public Accounts Committee last Wednesday. Their purpose was to discuss what had happened since 2015, when Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan was first told about the long-simmering financial issues at Templemore. Instead, members were treated to an unexpected practical demonstration of the deep dysfunction in the higher ranks of An Garda Siochana, while further troubling details of the force's finances came out in the wash.

Going by the open hostilities on show, the money seems by far the lesser problem. Kelly told the committee that he was conducting two audits. One is an investigation into all of the funds the Garda received from the EU as far back as 1998.

The funds were from mostly from Cepol, the European Police College, and were intended to be spent on training. There are unsubstantiated claims that the funds may have been used to entertain officers. Josepha Madigan, the Fine Gael TD, told the PAC that she understood some of the proceeds were "being spent on non-core Garda issues, if one likes, and the moneys are not going where they should be going".

The PAC also heard about a mysterious Cabra bank account that is also part of Kelly's audit. The Sunday Independent understands that the account was under the control of the organisation development unit of An Garda Siochana, which is now known as the policy and planning unit. The unit operated out of an office at Cabra garda station, but staff at the unit answered to headquarters. The Garda's website describes it as "an internal consultancy for senior Garda management".

Kelly is understood to have interviewed a number of people about the bank account, its purpose and what the funds were used for.

The auditor is also looking at charities associated with An Garda Siochana, such as the foundation set up to honour Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, who was gunned down by the IRA in a post office robbery in Adare in 1996, which have been dragged into the audit.

The Jerry McCabe Fellowship Programme, set up in the year of his murder, funds gardai to study at John Jay College in the US. As a registered charity, it operates independently of An Garda Siochana, which contributes just over €19,000 a year. Private benefactors have also donated.

An informed source confirmed that the foundation "is being looked at" as part of the broader audit. "The audit is in the very early stages, and at this early stage there aren't major concerns about the funds for the McCabe Foundation," the source said.

The problems at Templemore have compounded the bitter divisions. Niall Kelly's audit of the college was published in March this year. It found a litany of serious problems: gardai acting as company directors against the Garda code; the college renting out land it did not own; and the existence of more than 50 bank accounts. The PAC has exposed how senior management tore each other apart in the year or two before it was published.

John Barrett, the head of human resources, kept a detailed dossier of how he "stumbled" on Templemore, and his subsequent efforts to root out the goings-on there. In his years with US multinationals, he had never seen anything like it. For his efforts, he invoked the wrath of director of finance Michael Culhane, who wrote to the Garda Commissioner about Barrett possibly breaching the Official Secrets Act.

The Garda are now trying to clear up this mess, including a potential tax issue. The question for the PAC is who knew about it, who tried to do something about it and crucially whether gardai and Commissioner O'Sullivan tried to keep a lid on it.

O'Sullivan is due back before the Public Accounts Committee in the coming weeks. A key question she faces is the discrepancy between her account that she was first briefed on Templemore in July 2015. Ken Ruane, the legal adviser to the force, said she was told weeks earlier.

But O'Sullivan has stormier seas to navigate than the PAC. She is venturing into uncharted waters with Leo Varadkar. When asked last week, Varadkar said he was worried about Templemore and called for greater accountability. He has expressed similar sentiments before, but as the Taoiseach-in- waiting his words will now take on a new power.

Sunday Independent

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