Nóirín O’Sullivan's future unsure as Varadkar to 'demand accountability' from Gardaí if elected

Leo Varadkar has issued a thinly veiled threat at Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, saying people losing their jobs over scandals “needs to happen a little bit more in the public sector”.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan

He said that while he still supports Ireland’s most senior garda, there is a need for “individual accountability” when controversies emerge.

Asked specifically about whether he still has confidence in Ms O’Sullivan amid a flurry of fresh garda college revelations — including a 2008 audit revealed in today’s Irish Examiner showing the facility’s “laundry” account was used for loans, donations and entertainment costs for officers — Mr Varadkar said: “I do.”

However, when questioned directly over whether he would remove her if he became taoiseach, Mr Varadkar — who is widely predicted to win today’s Fine Gael leadership contest — strongly hinted to Newstalk’s Drive programme that this was a possibility.

“It’s important we have those [Dáil public accounts committee] investigations, but what I will demand is accountability, and that’s not just in the gardai, it’s across the board,” he said.

“There isn’t enough individual accountability, it’s always lack of resources, systems failure and all those things we hear too much of.

“What we need a little bit more of in this country is individual accountability. And, you know, politicians are held to account, ministers do lose their jobs, and politicians lose their seats.

“It happens, and it needs to happen a little bit more in the public sector.”

While Mr Varadkar referenced the entire public sector in his comments, the fact he was responding to a specific question on Ms O’Sullivan’s future has raised fresh questions over what action he would take as Taoiseach.

The comments were made as further revelations emerged over the Garda College scandal, including a 2008 audit leaked last night which found the facility’s “laundry” account was used for officer loans, bonuses, and entertainment costs over an unknown period.

The 53-page McGee report, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, first highlighted the Garda College issues nine years ago, and at the time specifically warned internal controls were “lax” and potentially illegal.

In addition, this newspaper can today reveal the garda internal audit unit is examining serious concerns significant amounts of money were transferred from the Garda College account to the personal account of a top-ranking garda linked to the college who left the force some years ago.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who raised the matter with garda internal auditor Niall Kelly during Wednesday’s PAC meeting, said last night that she received the information from “an impeccable source” and that “if the money was transferred by the way or for the purpose we understand, I think there is the possibility of fraud”.

During a 10-hour meeting with garda civilian officers key to uncovering the scandal on Wednesday, the PAC also found:

  • The tax compliance issue, which is due to be clarified today, poses “significant liability” risks;
  • Senior gardaí in the Sportsfield Garda College company may have breached SIPO company rules;
  • Hundreds of cheques may have been given to gardaí for unknown reasons from the Garda College funds;
  • A previously unknown AIB bank account in Cabra, Dublin, may be linked to the college and EU grants dating back two decades;
  • Two whistleblowers who attempted to highlight the scandals were blocked from accessing information, with one threatened with a criminal case because his notes may have broken the Official Secrets’ Act.

At a closed meeting yesterday, the PAC agreed to question a number of officials on June 14, before meeting the commissioner — with department and Policing Authority officials — on June 21.

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