Government leaders again pledge support for Garda Commissioner

The PAC yesterday received fresh evidence suggesting Commissioner O'Sullivan misled the Oireachtas

Government leaders again pledge support for Garda Commissioner

Noirin O'Sullivan. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Government leadership has again come out in support of the Garda Commissioner – despite fresh evidence suggesting she misled the Oireachtas during a hearing last week.

Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week, Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said she became aware of financial irregularities at the Garda Training College in Templemore during a “brief meeting” over a cup of tea in 2015.

However, the garda human resources director, John Barrett, openly contradicted her evidence - insisting he had kept detailed minutes of the meeting which was “over two hours" long.

The committee yesterday received the lengthy written record of the two-hour meeting from Mr Barrett.

Vote of confidence

In the Dáil this afternoon the Taoiseach came under fire from opposition leaders calling on him to explain how he can continue to have confidence in the commissioner’s ability to do her job.

The opposition has insisted that under Section 41 of the Garda Act, the commissioner was legally obliged to inform the Minister for Justice about the irregularities as soon as she became aware of them.

The two-hour meeting allegedly took place in July 2015 – while the Department of Justice has insisted it only became aware of the problems in 2016.

The Taoiseach said the government retains confidence in the commissioner – and said that, under the act, the decision on whether to inform the Minister is “a matter of judgement.”

“If money was shifted, if money was misappropriated, or money was diverted - as we now have some evidence of what happened in Templemore - it was this commissioner who actually has taken some action on this to find out what exactly has happened here,” he said.

“That is why it is necessary that the Public Accounts Committee be allowed to do its job and to finish its report.”

Both Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams called for the commissioner to be removed from her position:

“Why wouldn't the commissioner tell the minisdter at that time, what was the issue? what was the problem?" said Deputy Martin.

"You are trying to wash this thing away; day after day, week after week - do you not get it Taoiseach?”

“The thing is completely untenable and unacceptable.”

Following the debate, Deputy Adams said the Taoiseach had failed to provide a credible reason for his support of the commissioner.

“A lack of accountability it is the key issue underpinning all of these controversies and scandals,” he said. “The Taoiseach's position is clearly not acceptable or sustainable. The Commissioner has to go.”

Both sides of the story

Earlier the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald also offered her support to the commissioner.

Minster Fitzgerald admitted that broad changes are needed at management level within the force – but insisted that all sides of the story must be heard before any decisions are taken.

She insisted the act leaves the decision on whether to inform the government at the commissioner’s discretion.

“I do have confidence in the Garda Commissioner,” she said. “She is implementing change, it is very difficult.”

“I think all of these events as they unfold just illustrate how much change is needed at a broader level in terms of management, in terms of speed of response, in terms of informing various authorities – all of this, clearly is in need of change.”

“I think the important point here is that we need to see the full story; why action wasn’t taken more speedily.”

Root and branch review

Yesterday the government appointed the Seattle Chief of Police is to chair the upcoming “root and branch” review of the force.

Ms O'Toole was on the Garda Inspectorate for six years from 2006 and was also a member of the Patten Commission on policing in Northern Ireland. 

She was the first female commissioner of the Boston Police from 2004-2006.