Friday 27 April 2018

How taxpayers paid for Garda College golf club

Thousands of euros pumped into club that's now facing closure

Templemore Golf Club is linked to the Garda Training College in Co Tipperary
Templemore Golf Club is linked to the Garda Training College in Co Tipperary
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Hundreds of thousands of euro of taxpayers' money has been pumped into a golf club run by senior gardai which is now at risk of being closed down due to dubious practices in the past by members of the force, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Serious concerns have been raised in internal audits and by the force's head of human resources over the gross mismanagement of funds in the past by gardai responsible for overseeing the Templemore Golf Club in Tipperary.

The golf club - which is linked to the Garda Training College in Templemore - and a controversial company set up by gardai are at the centre of an investigation of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Gardai are trawling through internal communications and accounts to establish how the golf club was created and why it received so much money from the taxpayer.

The Sunday Independent can today reveal the full details of how gardai set up a company to purchase land illegally and then used taxpayers' money and funding generated from a restaurant at the training college to run the golf club.

In the 1990s, gardai set up the Garda College Sportsfield Company to develop sport facilities for the training college and acquire a third-level education accreditation. Senior gardai were made directors of the company, and continue to be to date. The course is open to both gardai and members of the public. Annual green fees stand at €370 for men and €320 for women.

The Sportsfield company was used to lease land from the Office of Public Works (OPW), even though An Garda Siochana is prohibited from owning land under legislation. The land was bought using government funding and revenue generated from the training college campus.

Two plots of land were leased to Sportsfield by the OPW on a 99-year lease for IR£85,000. A bank draft was paid out of a company account by gardai in January 1998, but was either lost or never cashed by the OPW. The payment of €106,927 was finally made five years later to the OPW for the lease.

The club's official website states: "The new third-level Garda College made major investments by the acquisition of the golf club lands, the building of new floodlit tennis courts and a new club house that was registered as the Garda College Golf & Leisure Club and officially opened in 1998." It is unclear where this entity is registered.

In a submission to the PAC last week, Garda executive director of human resources John Barrett said the leasehold transaction is "curious and will require a most careful and thorough review".

In his dossier, Mr Barrett said Sportsfield agreed a licence agreement with Templemore Golf Club to use the 26-acre site, car park facilities and club house, in return for what he described as the "strikingly modest" annual rent of €12,500. However, this rental income has not been paid for eight years and arrears currently stand at €100,000.

Mr Barrett said it was "unclear what, if any, complex set of sanctions and approvals are recorded" for the transaction.

"The Templemore Golf Club has historically had many of its elected officers drawn from the population of retired and serving members and their families," he added.

Mr Barrett also found Sportsfield had been paying for the club's bar licence for several years, even though the golf club has not been paying the agreed rent. Funding was also provided by the company to maintain car-parking facilities and tennis courts.

It was established that Sportsfield operated the club house, car park and tennis courts, while the land which they were on was licensed to Templemore Golf Club.

"There is nothing wrong with Sportsfield getting a licence to acquire the land, but whether it should have been set up in the first place is questionable, and there definitely should not have been garda members as directors on it," a senior Garda source said.

Analysis of Sportsfield's company accounts show it received almost €300,000 in 'grants' from the Garda Training College for the eleven years between 2003 and 2014. This is the only income the company has received since the golf club stopped paying rent.

Accounts also reveal the company was forced to write down almost €1m off the value of land and buildings it owns during the collapse of the property market.

The OPW is seeking to take back the land from the golf club and use it to expand the Garda Training College. Independent Tipperary TD Michael Lowry has raised issues in the Dail about plans to close the golf club. He did not respond to a request for a comment this week.

"The OPW want full control of the land and effectively want to get the golf club off the land," a garda source said.

In his PAC report, Mr Barrett noted that two eviction notices had been served on the golf club in recent years but no enforcement had been sought and there had been no reduction in access to the facilities owned by Sportsfield.

He said the agreement between the OPW and Sportsfield could be null and void as it appeared the lease was never signed and there were questions surrounding the bank draft drawn down to pay for the site.

"Accordingly, the licence arrangements which the Sportsfield Co Ltd agreed with Templemore Golf Club is compromised and void and any monies unpaid are possibly unrecoverable," he said.

"The lands being used by the golf club have been used by them uninterrupted for a period now of more than 14 years so an issue of adverse possession may arise," he added.

He said An Garda Siochana has no "immediate property rights" over the land and stands at "grave risk of reputational damage" due to the actions of Sportsfield.

Sunday Independent

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