Tuesday 21 November 2017

Garda College 'spent thousands on jewellery, flowers and golf society'

Ms O'Sullivan has described the matters raised as legacy issues and insisted there had been no misappropriation of money or misuse of funds (Stock picture)
Ms O'Sullivan has described the matters raised as legacy issues and insisted there had been no misappropriation of money or misuse of funds (Stock picture)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Concerns about widespread financial irregularities at the Garda College were first expressed over a decade ago, a damning internal audit has revealed.

The document detailed the use of 48 different bank accounts and a "non-transparent system of accounting" at the college in Templemore, Co Tipperary.

Bank accounts were often used for purposes other than those for which they were intended, including buying gifts, spending on entertainment and the sponsorship of Garda sports clubs.

An audit report published by the force yesterday revealed issues were flagged as far back as 2006 but only two out of 12 subsequent recommendations from the Garda finance directorate were implemented.

The revelations will heap further pressure on embattled Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, who is due to be quizzed by the Oireachtas Justice Committee today.

Read More: Misguided loyalty or self-preservation at heart of Garda crisis

She has also been asked to attend the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, while the Comptroller & Auditor General will also examine the report.

Ms O'Sullivan has described the matters raised as legacy issues and insisted there had been no misappropriation of money or misuse of funds.

In particular, the report focused on the use of cash from the rental of college land to farmers, the operation of a private company holding land for college sports facilities, and the use of accounts linked to the college bar, restaurant and laundry service.

Some €124,903 was collected in rent from farmers for the use of land called Dromad Farm between 2009 and 2013.

The land that was bought for a tactical training centre was not used due to the financial downturn.

Although the Office of Public Works was the legal owner, the college rented it out and the funds were deposited in the college restaurant account.

According to the audit, in 2010 some of the rental cash ended up being spent on items such as entertainment (sums of €186 and €440), retirement functions and presentations (€99, €340, €740 and €716), Garda Boat Club sponsorship (€500) and charitable donations (€120 and €200).

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

The Garda Síochána Act 2005 banned gardaí from being involved in land contracts and the report found that the company should have been dissolved from the beginning of the act and its assets transferred to the OPW. This did not happen.

Ethics

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 laws.

The report 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, buying a utility vehicle, gym mats and expenses for the GAA Sigerson Cup team.

In 2008 a laundry account was used to pay for a €500 staff bonus, meals and entertainment (€7,231), jewellery and gifts (€300), flowers (€200) as well as contributions to the Garda Boat Club (€500), a golf society (€1,040), parish clergy (€2,150) and charities (€3,030).

Irish Independent

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