Friday 13 December 2019

GRA's 'top table' shares €658,000 expenses bonanza

Damning report says Garda association is dysfunctional

EXPENSES: Travel bill tops €1m. Stock picture
EXPENSES: Travel bill tops €1m. Stock picture
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Garda Representative Association spent more than €658,188 on travel and subsistence expenses for its governing central executive committee in 2016, a scathing new report has revealed.

The huge sum accounts for more than a quarter of annual subscriptions paid by rank and file members of the force and is described as untenable in a root and branch review of the association.

It means that €5 of every €20 in monthly subscriptions by ordinary gardai goes on expenses for the executive.

The damning report, commissioned by the GRA, also finds the organisation to be "dysfunctional", with archaic systems and poor governance.

It recommends the organisation's leadership be culled to just 12 elected representatives from 31, along with a president, vice-president and treasurer.

The revelations of expense claims by the GRA's 'top table' will incense ordinary members of the force.

The report by Ampersand Consultants found that the GRA's 'administrative expenses' for 2016 were €2.79m, up €500,000 on the previous year. It revealed that travel and subsistence accounted for the largest item of expenditure.

The claims for 2016 came to €1,140,182, accounting for 40pc of the GRA's overall expenditure and 46pc of subscriptions.

Around €319,381 in travel and subsistence claims was paid to 499 local GRA representatives, the report found. This breaks down to an average of €640 each over the course of 2016.

The lion's share of expenses - €658,188 - went to the GRA's central executive committee.

The Ampersand report said the cost of travel and subsistence was "over and above a government subvention" which covers paid release from Garda duties together with travel and subsistence for central executive committee members attending regular monthly meetings.

The GRA receives €2.5m in subscriptions and State funding of about €125,000 each year.

The report was commissioned by the GRA against a backdrop of a split in its upper echelons. The association has been dogged by complaints about spending and gifts, including holiday vouchers purchased for staff and third parties.

The report gives a further breakdown of the €658,188 travel and subsistence claims paid to the central executive committee (CEC).

It noted expenses of €98,627 on 'Special CEC' meetings in 2016; €132,686 on 'sub-committee' meetings; €103,540 on 'other' CEC meetings; €153,915 on a 'home office allowance'; and road toll fees of €12,551.

"The cost of expenses for the CEC accounted for just over 26pc of the GRA's total income from subscriptions," the report said.

"These costs were generated within the association, on volunteers who have not been trained or resourced by the organisation.

"This method of delivering representation and the associated costs are neither tenable nor sustainable going forward."

The report was also scathing of the CEC. Members interviewed for the report perceived the CEC to be "a boys' club", "out of touch" and "a closed shop".

It also reflected the strong criticism from members of the "secretiveness" around financial decisions, and "squandering" of member funds on "gifts" and "extravagant hospitality".

The Ampersand report singled out financial governance of the GRA for particular comment, given the extensive complaints it received during the review.

It "confirmed that the overall approach" of the GRA was "outdated and, consequently, the range and quality of financial policy, procedures and controls that would be expected in any organisation today are not in place".

Problems were routinely "funnelled" to the "top table" with the result that the GRA's top leadership body had taken on the role of being a centralised place of power.

A GRA spokesman said: "The membership voted unanimously at the delegate conference in 2016 that a root and branch review should be undertaken of the structure, governance and function of the GRA.

"The Ampersand report findings will be discussed and voted on at a special delegate conference the week after next. Conference - and conference alone - will decide whether to accept or reject its findings."

Ampersand said the "inability of the current leadership to function as a cohesive/united leadership body was not acceptable".

Sunday Independent

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