Wednesday 16 August 2017

Garda audit chief in legal threat to TD over comments on radio

Top official contacted TD after RTE interview

Warning: Niall Kelly, pictured, wrote to Fine Gael’s Peter Burke
Warning: Niall Kelly, pictured, wrote to Fine Gael’s Peter Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

An Garda Siochana's head of internal audit threatened legal action against a Fine Gael TD who appeared on RTE Radio One's Saturday with Claire Byrne, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Senior Garda auditor Niall Kelly warned Fine Gael's Peter Burke he would receive a "legal letter" after the TD raised questions about the auditing of Templemore Garda College during an interview on the national broadcaster.

Mr Burke is also a member of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is investigating allegations of financial irregularities at the Garda training college.

It is understood Mr Kelly emailed Mr Burke from his Garda email address on the afternoon the show on June 3 was broadcast and asked the TD to call him. The Longford-Westmeath TD called him two days later and the senior Garda official raised concerns about comments Mr Burke made during the radio interview.

"Kelly told Burke he would receive a legal letter because of what he said on the show," a well-placed source said.

However, it is understood Mr Burke has yet to receive any legal correspondence from Mr Kelly or from An Garda Siochana. It is also understood RTE staff were aware of Mr Kelly's concerns over the comments but it is unclear if he lodged an official complaint with the station. Mr Burke relayed the Garda auditor's concerns to PAC chairman Sean Fleming after he was contacted by Mr Kelly.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Local Government Junior Minister John Paul Phelan said Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan "may have to resign" depending on the outcome of the various reports into Garda management.

Mr Burke, who previously worked as an auditor in the private sector, was the first PAC member to raise concerns over whether company accounts linked to the Garda college were tax compliant.

During a PAC hearing in May, Mr Burke clashed with Mr Kelly over the latter's auditing of these accounts and his lack of knowledge about the amount of tax numbers used by the Garda college.

Mr Burke asked the senior auditor how many tax numbers were in use by the various companies linked to the training college, to which Mr Kelly responded: "I am not sure - I think there's just one."

Mr Burke said the auditor's response was "incredible" and said he did not understand how he could not answer the question. "The witness was the internal auditor in respect of this operation. Some €1.5m went into this account over the past four years and the witness cannot tell me how many tax numbers are operating," he said. "The existence of tax numbers suggests that there is turnover - and we know there was - so we have to be assured that public money was used in a transparent manner. There may be tax liabilities in these cases. That is another shortcoming."

Mr Kelly said he had been "reassured" by the force's director of finance that the accounts were in order.

Mr Burke said: "With respect to the witness and his position, I was a private sector auditor. If I had let this happen, I would have been let go long ago. I cannot go to my boss and say that the bank accounts are correct because the financial officer in the company told me so."

It emerged later in the hearing there were five tax numbers. Garda officials are seeking to establish if all five accounts were tax compliant or whether they owe money to the Revenue Commissioner.

Mr Kelly did not respond to requests for comment and Mr Burke said he did not want speak while the PAC investigation was ongoing.

Sunday Independent

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