Wednesday 23 August 2017

Garda finance chief sent letter to Revenue to 'muddy things up'

'Particularly troubling' email that shows charitable status allegedly claimed for college

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

A senior Garda official appeared to indicate that Templemore Training College had charitable status in a communication with Revenue in order to "muddy things up".

An email sent by Garda finance boss Michael Culhane to the Department of Justice in July 2010 was described as "troubling" by Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry.

Details of the potentially explosive email emerged during Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan's appearance at the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Documents provided to the PAC show that Mr Culhane previously emailed Eugene Banks in the Department of Justice policing division in April 2010. He asked it to check with Department of Education colleagues to confirm if universities have charitable status and if investment income is tax-free when used for the "furtherance of the education of students".

Then in the July 2010 email, Mr Culhane wrote that there had been no developments on the matter since. But he added: "To muddy things up, I included charitable status for the college in the letter to the Revenue dated May 28."

TDs are examining a report by the Garda internal audit unit that found serious financial irregularities at the training college. In recent weeks, senior Garda officials have been unable to confirm that all four tax numbers associated with the college are tax compliant, with the PAC being told the force is "in discussions" with Revenue.

As details of the email from the Garda finance boss emerged, Mr MacSharry said he found it "particularly troubling". The Garda Commissioner said she wasn't aware of the context of the email but said "the language is unusual".

She said the emails dated from a time before she was the accounting officer. After consultation with the chief administration officer Joe Nugent, she said he had informed her that he did not believe the disclosure to Revenue related to the college and that it could have been related to other matters.

Ms O'Sullivan said that Mr Nugent would provide a note on the matter to the PAC. She said Mr Culhane couldn't be contacted for clarification yesterday.

Department of Justice secretary general Noel Waters later told the PAC he wasn't aware of Mr Culhane's email.

Mr MacSharry asked Policing Authority chairperson and former Revenue Commissioners boss Josephine Feehily if the email would be a matter of concern to her. "I think it's fair to say that it would," she replied.

She added that she spoke of the importance of transparency during her time at Revenue.

"In the context of my current role, one of our remits is about governance and in that capacity one would certainly wonder about this kind of language," she added.

Earlier, Ms O'Sullivan refused to name a former senior garda who was a signatory of a bank account in Cabra which is under investigation for suspected fraudulent activity.

It is understood the suspected fraud involved EU funds that were supposed to be used for Garda training purposes being transferred to the Cabra account from Templemore.

Ms O'Sullivan confirmed that she referred the matter to GSOC for investigation and the Department of Justice, the Policing Authority and European auditors have also been told.

Ms O'Sullivan told TDs she wasn't in a position to say who the most recent signatory of the account was, as the matter is under investigation and there has to "due process and fairness to individuals".

Ms O'Sullivan indicated that the account had different signatories over the years it was in existence - 1999 to 2010.

She said the most recent person was "a retired senior officer" but refused to give their rank as this would be "tantamount to identifying an individual".

She rejected suggestions it was "convenient" that she couldn't answer some questions due to the matter being referred to GSOC and insisted she wasn't protecting any individual.

Ms O'Sullivan told Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy that its her understanding the Cabra account was a Garda account, not a personal one. She said the balance in the account ranged from €5,000 to €90,000 at its height.

Irish Independent

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