"Very clear" law was broken at garda training college - McDonald

The Sinn Féin deputy leader has pledged to "get to the bottom" of the financial irregularities in Templemore

"Very clear" law was broken at garda training college - McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald | Photocall file photo

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader has insisted it is "very clear" that financial mismanagement uncovered at the garda training college in Templemore was illegal.

Mary Lou McDonald said the accounting and expenditure practices revealed by an internal audit broke the law in a number of ways – despite claims from Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan that it remains unclear whether any criminal activity occurred.

The irregularities revealed by an interim report published in March included the use of public money for entertainment, gifts and for clubs and societies.

The report suggests that in one instance, €100,000 was transferred from a college company to the private Garda Boat Club – which has been described by one TD as "embezzlement.”

Unnacceptable

Appearing in front of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday, Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan said the irregular financial practices that occurred were "unacceptable" – but said they were legacy issues dating back as far as 40 years.

She said relevant paper trails have not yet been uncovered - and while she accepts the findings of the interim audit report into what happened, she cannot confirm any illegal practices until the final report is published.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Deputy McDonald said the evidence revealed so far is enough to know something was seriously wrong:

"The interim report that the commissioner accepted reflects very clearly that the law was broken," she said. "It was broken in numerous ways in respect of members of An Garda Síochána opening bank accounts without the sanction of the Minister for Justice [and] senior office holders not making declarations under SIPO (Standards in Public Office Commission)."

"I have heard no defence, I have heard no evidence to the contrary and the last thing that we said to the Garda Commissioner and her team - and indeed to the Department of Justice - is when they are back before us again is, don't come in singing dumb.

"We actually want answers; concrete evidence and answers next time round."

Infighting

The commissioner has been heavily criticised after the garda human resources director, John Barrett, openly contradicted her evidence to the committee yesterday.

Ms O'Sullivan said she first became aware of the extent of the issues facing the college in July 2015.

She said she received a report with recommendations from her head of legal affairs on 28th of July adding that: "Prior to that, on the 27th of July there was a very brief conversation in a room after a meeting in Templemore in which Mr Barrett raised issues around work he was doing."

Mr Barrett interjected to say the "meeting was over two hours" long – adding that he had kept detailed minutes, which included the order in which people entered and left the room.

He said the meeting began at 5:20pm and he was the first to leave at 7:37pm.

The commissioner replied that she believed it was not a formal meeting adding "we were having some tea in the reception room."

Deputy McDonald says she is determined to get to the truth of the matter and pledged to have the commissioner and other witnesses back before the committee within a number of weeks:

"We have looked for a series of correspondence and documentation because believe you me we will get to the bottom of this," she said. "We need to establish in the case of that particular meeting, who was right and who was wrong."

Audit

The Garda Internal Audit Section interim report examined financial procedures at the Templemore College between January 2009 and March 2016 – during which time around €112m of public funds was spent.

The report found that no financial controls existed on a number of the 48 bank accounts that were identified as being linked to the college.

It found that certain garda staff assigned to administrative roles had no training in, or experience of, administration - and had no knowledge of public financial procedures and governance codes.