Major clash of cultures brings 'the real world' into Templemore
Evidence is mounting that senior officers tried to keep a lid on financial irregularities at the Garda College
John Barrett was standing at the door of his office in Templemore Garda College, loading a number into his phone, when a Superintendent in civvies approached him. Barrett had been asking questions about the college's finances. The Superintendent told him his questions were being answered. Barrett told him he would have more. The Superintendent followed him into his office. "You've been doing a bit of digging," he said. Barrett noted his uneasy body language and was concerned. Later, he rang the Garda's chief administration officer, who had a "nasty smell" from some of the answers he was getting.
The exchange was one of many contained in the Garda head of human resources' extraordinary chronicle of his efforts to unravel the unorthodox finances of the Templemore college.
The 122-page dossier, written by one of the most senior civilian managers in the organisation, has exposed a catastrophic clash of cultures when Barrett's corporate values, honed in the US, bore down on the Garda College.
In them, he outlines how one official talked to him about the "negative reputational risks" for the force and how the approach was to "solve this quietly without risking exposure".
Another senior Garda who offered to walk with him across a courtyard told him that he didn't think the Garda College's finances were in his remit as head of human resources.
The emergence of Barrett's document last week at the Public Accounts Committee has proved most damaging for Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan as the storm rages over her leadership and amid deepening alarm over what has been going on at Templemore.
A conflict of evidence to the Public Accounts Committee over when and how she was first apprised of the issues at Templemore - she says it was over a cup of tea, Barrett describes a two-hour meeting - has undermined O'Sullivan. She is not the only Garda boss to be exposed. An interim audit of Templemore was completed in March with breathtaking findings on how public and private funds sloshed around 50 bank accounts; restaurant takings dipped into to fund dinners and retirements; a €100,000 donation to the Garda Boat Club; and renting out land that the college did not actually own.
Barrett's testimony, and that of other civilian Garda managers, has raised questions about how successive Garda chiefs handled the problem and, critically, whether there were attempts to cover up the scandal.
When Niall Kelly became internal auditor in 2007, he found among the files in Garda headquarters an audit report on Templemore that his predecessors had started in 2006, but never actually completed.
In 2008, the Garda's finance directorate produced a report on Templemore by Barry McGee that highlighted many of the concerns. A copy was sent to then Garda commissioner Fachtna Murphy. Kelly told the PAC that Murphy wrote to the then chief administrative officer, instructing him to "do certain things, including to give the report to internal audit and to the Comptroller and Auditor General." That never happened.
Murphy also directed that six of the 12 recommendations in the McGee report should be implemented. But they never were. O'Sullivan was unable to tell the PAC why, or on whose orders.
Even though he was chief auditor, Kelly was kept out of the loop. He tried to start his own audit of Templemore at this time, but was warned against doing so. He asked the Chief Superintendent in charge of the college for the McGee report, but the Chief Superintendent refused to give it to him - an astonishing rebuff to the head of internal audit.
It appears the Garda College did not welcome external interference. According to evidence given to the PAC, Nacie Rice, who was the assistant commissioner in charge of Templemore, wrote a report in 2008 to the effect that any surplus money in the college accounts should stay within the college and not go back to the State.
According to Mary Lou McDonald, it was only when John Barrett "came in from the real world" in 2014 that things started to change. Barrett had worked on the Continent and in the US, and according to his LinkedIn page is "strategic, prescient and commercially savvy", a "senior business leader" with extensive experience managing change in complex organisations. None more complex than An Garda Siochana.
Almost a year into his job, he noticed the overtime bill at the Garda College. On making inquiries, he discovered a "series of activities going on in the college that were outside the line command" - the restaurant which he assumed was part of the Civil Service but was in fact privately owned.
On June 22, 2015, Barrett asked the Garda's head of legal affairs, Ken Ruane, for advice and a few days later he wrote a chronology of his concerns and investigations. He gave this to Cyril Dunne, the chief administrative officer, on July 6.
He handed it over, believing that Dunne would brief the Garda audit committee, which is independent and chaired by a former civil servant, Michael Howard. Barrett later learned that Dunne did not brief the audit committee.
"That was a decision that Mr Dunne made at the time. It was a significant report with lots in it. I do not know why he did not bring it to the committee," Barrett told the PAC.
When the audit committee met again in September, 2015, Dunne did raise the problems at Templemore but as an 'oral briefing' under 'any other business' and didn't circulate copies of Barrett's detailed report.
Ruane did act. At the end of July, he wrote to the Garda Commissioner advising her of her obligation to inform the Justice Minister under Section 41 of the Garda Act. The following Monday, O'Sullivan called the now infamous meeting in Templemore, at which she said she learned for the first time about the irregularities at the Garda College. She told the PAC that it was "brief" and involved a cup of tea. Her deputy, Donal O'Cualain, could not recall how long it lasted; it had been "a long day", he said.
Luckily, Barrett kept a detailed and thorough minute of the proceedings. He noted that the meeting began at around 5.30 and lasted for two hours. He noted those present as O'Sullivan, her two deputies, John Twomey and O'Cualain; and Dunne, and he noted what they said.
According to his note, they discussed the full gamut of concerns - the fact that €12m over 10 years had been 'comingled' in accounts in the college; some funds were never officially recorded in the college's accounting books; and surpluses that should have gone back to the central fund did not.
When Barrett told the Garda Commissioner that he was the one who had briefed legal officer Ruane, he felt "a real tension in the room". When he mentioned the disappearance of records coinciding with the retirement of a restaurant manager, he got "considerable push back".
All of those present - that is, the Garda Commissioner and her two Assistant Commissioners - told him he "needed to be very careful in making such unproven assertions and connections". Barrett withdrew the remark. According to Barrett's account, the senior gardai were "reticent" about accepting the findings of the report; there was "no evidence" of wrongdoing.
The Garda Commissioner concluded that "there was no evidence of misappropriation", according to Barrett. We now know that she did not take Ruane's advice and waited another 15 months before informing the minister. She has told the PAC that she wanted to find out what she was dealing with.
O'Sullivan, Twomey, O'Cualain and Dunne will likely be invited back before the PAC to give their side of what transpired at the meeting with Barrett. Members will meet next week to assemble a list of witnesses. They are expected to include the last four Garda commissioners, the heads of the Garda College and senior figures in the Department of Justice who may have had an inkling of concerns in Templemore.
Justice and Equality Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the Government are standing by the Commissioner, even though a majority of Dail TDs now have no confidence in her, no longer accepting that the problems in Templemore are 'legacy issues' that are not of her making.
Fianna Fail Deputy Marc MacSharry said: "She has at the very minimum precipitated a delay. I would say that it is tantamount to cover-up - it is tantamount to 'keep it all in house until we know what we are dealing with'."
Few public figures have withstood the level of scrutiny that the Garda Commissioner has endured in recent months. O'Sullivan is perceived to have surrounded herself with a small group of officers she trusts. Some say this is to protect herself.
"There is some misogyny, there is no doubt about that. Having said that, there is definitely disgruntlement that a small group of people seem to be running the organisation, doing jobs that other people think it is their job to do," said one source.
There are now three civilians in senior-management positions within An Garda Siochana who have been minded to go outside the force to highlight issues or raise concerns. As emerged at the PAC, John Barrett believes his powers have been eroded by the Garda Commissioner's decision to remove some of his functions, including discipline.
Head of data analysis Gurchand Singh felt obliged to tell the Policing Authority that he had not read or signed off on a review of homicide figures. It is understood that Singh has since been given a copy of the report and has been invited to comment on it.
Niall Kelly also reminded the Policing Authority that the so-called 'audit' of the fake breath-test figures was not technically an audit as he as chief auditor had nothing to do with it.
O'Sullivan is on leave this week. She would be wise to keep it short.