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Saturday 24 March 2018

Two-month delay asking department to join Garda review

Secretary General of the Department of Justice & Equality Noel Waters Picture: Tom Burke
Secretary General of the Department of Justice & Equality Noel Waters Picture: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

There was an apparent two-month delay in justice officials being invited to take part in a Garda steering group reviewing the implications of financial irregularities at Templemore Training College, it has emerged.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan last week told TDs that she immediately moved to establish the group, which would include Department of Justice representatives, once she learned of the issues at Templemore at the end of July 2015.

However, senior Department of Justice official John O'Callaghan told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) they didn't receive an invitation to take part until October that year.

The department's secretary general Noel Waters later rejected a suggestion by Labour TD Alan Kelly that the invitation came as an "afterthought".

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Mr Kelly replied: "You certainly weren't foremost in their minds because they didn't bother to ask you to sit on it in the first place."

It comes as the controversy over the finances at Templemore deepened as the PAC continues its probe.

It has emerged during a separate internal audit of the college that it had a web of more than 40 bank accounts. Some were used for purposes other than those for which they were intended, including buying gifts and spending on entertainment.

Department of Justice assistant secretary Mr O'Callaghan, who has responsibility for policing, told TDs the Garda first told them about the steering group looking at the matter at the beginning of October 2015.

"They were going to invite us to nominate someone to sit on it and that was to work through and address the issues that were then known in relation to the Garda College," he said.

Mr O'Callaghan said a department representative was nominated to attend the group's meetings and did so for the first time the following month.

Mr Kelly was asked why the Garda's internal audit unit didn't begin its investigation until March 2016, despite the department saying it should have been informed of the issues at Templemore the previous October.

Mr O'Callaghan said the audit unit had been informed and its examination of the college was put on its 2016 programme.

Mr Kelly also asked if it was the department's view that Ms O'Sullivan should have notified them of issues at Templemore before she did. Mr Waters said it was a matter for the judgment of the Commissioner.

Pressed further on the issue, Mr Waters said: "If the Commissioner was of the view that some criminal activity had taken place, some theft or fraud had occurred, I would have expected she would have told me about that."

The PAC is considering whether to seek another appearance by Ms O'Sullivan sooner than a meeting scheduled for July 13.

Last week, she said she found out about financial issues at the college during a "brief meeting" over a cup of tea in July 2015.

But this was contradicted by Garda human resources boss John Barrett, who told TDs that the July 2015 meeting lasted more than two hours.

He subsequently sent the PAC an extensive dossier outlining his own review of the situation at Templemore.

Ms O'Sullivan said it was immediately after the July 2015 meeting that she set up the steering group that was the subject of questions at the PAC yesterday.

Irish Independent

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