Newstalk Breakfast: Garda Commissioner to face fresh Oireachtas questioning

A legal expert has warned the commissioner broke the law by not informing the government about Templemore irregularities

Updated 13:10

A legal expert has warned that government leaders are “quite wrong” in their insistence that the Garda Commissioner was not legally obliged to inform them of financial irregularities at Templemore Garda College.

Members of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee are meeting this morning to discuss whether to call Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan in for questioning again within the week.

Commissioner O'Sullivan's next appearance was due to take place in July, however fresh controversy surrounding the Garda training college looks set to change all that.

Fresh evidence

Appearing before the committee last week, Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said she became aware of the financial irregularities during a “brief meeting” over a cup of tea on July 27th 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.

The Department of Justice has said it was only made aware of the situation in October 2016 – approximately 15 months later.

Delayed response

The timescale means that the commissioner has been aware of the issues for a total of 22 months and on Newstalk Breakfast, PAC chairman, Sean Fleming said the delay is “unacceptable to deal with these issues.”

“Everything seems to be a delay when it comes to the commissioner,” he said. “She highlights the problem, sets up a committee but we are not seeing closure on any of the issues that are hanging around for years - and she is aware of this for almost two years.”

“If there was a determination to deal with this matter promptly it would have been concluded by now and there is not sufficient determination to conclude these matters in my opinion.”

Addressing this afternoon’s PAC meeting, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald denied suggestions that the Oireachtas investigation amounts to a "witch-hunt" targeting the commissioner.

Deputy McDonald insisted the committee simply wants to get to the bottom of the scandal:

“We need to do this in a way that sheds light rather than simply heat,” she said. “But any suggestion that holding the accounting officer – in the case the Garda Commissioner – to account amounts to a witch hunt is very, very inaccurate and I think very dangerous from the point of view of the work that we as a committee do.”

In breach of the law

Opposition parties have insisted that the Commissioner is in breach of Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act – which obliges her to keep the Minister and the secretary general of the Department of Justice “fully informed” of any “significant developments that might reasonably be expected to affect adversely public confidence in the Garda Síochána.”

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny came under fire in the Dáil yesterday after he claimed that the decision on whether to keep the Minister for Justice informed was, “a matter of judgement.”

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald also insisted the act leaves the decision on whether to inform the government at the commissioner’s discretion.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, solicitor Dara Robinson – a partner at the specialist criminal law firm ‘Sheehan and Partners’ – said government leaders are “quite wrong” adding “these are mandatory words; there is no escape route here.”

He warned however that while the commissioner may have broken the law, she is unlikely to face any legal consequences:

“Oddly enough there doesn’t appear to be any consequence in the sense that many of the obligations that are imposed on An Garda Síochána - and in respect of which there are breaches - actually are criminal offences,” he said.

“They are much more minor matters by and large - but there is no sanction proposed in Section 41, nor indeed anywhere in chapter 5.

“But I would have thought that the political consequences are potentially very serious.”

You can listen back to Solicitor Dara Robinson’s appearance Newstalk Breakfast here: