Wednesday 21 February 2018

Garda 'has more than 130 bank accounts', PAC is told

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Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

The Dáil's spending watchdog has been told there are currently 130 public bank accounts, as well as three charity accounts, held in the name of An Garda Síochána.

The revelation by the Department of Justice, made in a letter to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), is the clearest indication to date of the complex web of accounts now being examined as part of investigations into the Templemore 'slush fund'.

The suspected fraud and financial irregularities at the country's Garda training college are the subject of investigations by the Garda watchdog, GSOC, Garda Audit and the EU anti-fraud watchdog, Olaf.

As revealed by the Irish Independent, Olaf kicked off its probe last Friday by meeting Garda Keith Harrison.

The Donegal-based garda, who will next week appear in front of the Disclosures Tribunal after being subjected to an alleged smear campaign, provided documents to Olaf to support its probe.

But the news that there are now dozens of public bank accounts held by the force illustrates the difficulties facing Olaf and GSOC.

"I have now been informed by Garda management that An Garda Síochána currently operates some 130 public bank accounts and three charity accounts," the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Noel Waters, said in the letter obtained by the Irish Independent.

In July, the head of Garda Audit, Niall Kelly, expressed frustrations at attempts to gain access to bank accounts linked to the Templemore 'slush fund'.

He mentioned the Garda credit union, known as St Raphael's, during evidence to the PAC.

But in a letter to the PAC, CEO of St Raphael's Credit Union Claire Byrne defended the organisation's response to requests for information as part of a probe by Garda Audit.

"We have confirmed on numerous occasions to GIAS (Garda Audit) our position, which is that we are happy to co-operate fully with its investigation subject to the receipt of the appropriate lawful authority to release the information requested," she wrote.

Meanwhile, the issue of the next Garda commissioner dominated political discussions yesterday.

During Leaders' Questions, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin suggested salary increases for a new Garda commissioner - from the current €184,000 to €300,000 - risked starting a "chain reaction" all across the senior public service ranks.

Nóirin O'Sullivan resigned abruptly from the post on September 10.

Responding on behalf of the Government, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald accepted the danger of creating precedents on senior public servants' pay.

But she added that there was "some leeway" to increase the current commissioner salary level to attract the best possible candidate.

Irish Independent

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