State financial watchdog the C&AG should open an immediate investigation into the Garda college scandal as its findings could be used to begin a criminal investigation into gardaí responsible for what happened.

Government TD and Dáil public accounts committee member Alan Farrell called for the move as he claimed the opposition focus on Garda commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan is a “political witch-hunt” against an innocent individual.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner as the Government continued to back Ms O’Sullivan and Fianna Fáil privately discussed the possibility of a no-confidence motion in Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Mr Farrell said the PAC does not have the “expertise” to fully examine the case.

He said the evidence it has been given, which will be discussed again at a meeting this morning, should now be handed over to the comptroller and auditor general as it is the official State body for examining public money concerns. The Fine Gael TD said a short C&AG investigation would allow the DPP to launch a criminal case as any findings would be specific and carry significantly more legal weight than what the PAC may find.

“The C&AG should begin, in a prompt fashion, an investigation of all Garda college bank accounts, all transactions, all the players. The C&AG is in the first instance the body to properly examine this. Somebody needs to get in there and lift that veil, and if that finds laws have been broken, then the appropriate DPP involvement should happen,” he said.

John Barrett, executive director of human resources and people development at An Garda Síochána, Templemore.
John Barrett, executive director of human resources and people development at An Garda Síochána, Templemore.

Mr Farrell made the comment as he claimed he does not believe Ms O’Sullivan is involved in covering up what happened and that the focus on her is a “political witch-hunt”. The view has been disputed by other PAC members, who last night said they want a July 19 meeting with Ms O’Sullivan brought forward to this month and for a series of meetings with all officials involved to be considered.

The views were expressed as the Garda college financial scandal and the future of Ms O’Sullivan is expected to again dominate Dáil proceedings today as opposition parties continue to pressure the Government to remove the Garda commissioner.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Housing Minister Simon Coveney and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar all continued to back Ms O’Sullivan.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil “I have faith in the commissioner to do her job”, while at a separate event in Dublin Ms Fitzgerald repeated her support for Ms O’Sullivan.

“I do have confidence in the Garda commissioner. She is implementing change. It’s very difficult,” she said.

Potential future Fine Gael leaders Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney also told RTÉ Radio Ms O’Sullivan has government support. Sinn Féin and Labour leaders Gerry Adams and Brendan Howlin said the Garda commissioner must be removed due to the latest whistleblower claims, while Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked Mr Kenny how his Government can continue to stand by Ms O’Sullivan.

Although Fianna Fáil will not support a no-confidence motion in Ms O’Sullivan, it has sought a special debate with Ms Fitzgerald today and has privately discussed a potential no-confidence motion in the Justice Minister. Ms Fitzgerald came under further pressure last night as the Social Democrats outlined a series of Dáil questions it raised with her since January in which she failed to give specific answers on the Garda college controversy.

The chair of the Government’s review of the gardaí, Kathleen O’Toole, has rejected claims she has a conflict of interest because she was part of the Garda inspectorate team which appointed Ms O’Sullivan.

“I was a member of the selection panel, but do not believe that presents a conflict. I anticipate this will be a systemic review, not focused on particular individuals,” the Seattle police chief told Irish media.

Timeline of events relating to financial irregularities at Templemore

2000-2003:

€100,000 is transferred from the Garda College Sportsfield Ltd, part of the State-owned Garda College in Templemore, to the Garda Boat Club, a private club with membership mainly from serving and retired gardaí and their families.

2006:

The then Garda commissioner Noel Conroy becomes accounting officer for the force, taking over from the secretary general of the Department of Justice, in line with the Garda Act 2005.

2006:

Garda Internal Audit Section (GIAS) begins but doesn’t finish an audit of the Garda College. Incomplete report raises concerns about financial management.

2007:

GIAS gets a new head, Niall Kelly.

April 2008:

The Finance Directorate, headed by Michael Culhane, completes a report, the McGee Report, which identifies financial mismanagement at the college and recommends steps to address it. Then chief administrative officer (CAO), John Leamy, writes to then commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, saying the Garda Audit Committee must be informed of the McGee Report at its next meeting in June. This does not happen.

2008:

Niall Kelly discovers the 2006 report, and subsequently the later reports, and seeks to conduct a full audit of the college but is told the Finance Directorate are updating financial systems at the college and he needs to await the outcome of that.

August-December 2009:

Niall Kelly begins an audit but is told the Finance Directorate is working on a full report and he should await that. He suspends his audit.

March 2010:

College management, via then assistant commissioner Jack Nolan, respond to the McGee Report, rejecting most of the recommendations.

2009-2013:

€125,000 in rent from lands bought by the State for the college for a development that did not take place and which is properly due to the OPW is instead funnelled into the college restaurant account from which money is withdrawn for gifts and entertainment. Numerous other irregular transactions take place involving a laundry account and bar account.

2010-2014:

The college is effectively closed because of the recruitment moratorium.

March 2, 2011:

Niall Kelly gives his annual report to the commissioner, then Martin Callinan, in which he raises concerns about the college and also about the fact that he has never seen any outcome of the work he was told was being carried out by the Finance Directorate.

March 4, 2011:

Niall Kelly receives a report from the Finance Directorate containing assurances that improved financial controls are now in place at the college. He also receives assurances from John Leamy and deputy commissioner Nacie Rice*. He deletes the above comments from the final version of his annual report.

March 2014:

Nóirín O’Sullivan is appointed Interim Garda Commissioner.

October 2014:

John Barrett is appointed director of human resources and people development.

November 2014:

Nóirín O’Sullivan is appointed Garda Commissioner.

June 2015:

John Barrett examines claims for overtime payments at the college and stumbles upon the 2008 Magee Report. He also finds reference to the responding 2010 report. His follow-up enquiries reveal millions of euro sitting in multiple bank accounts associated with the college, used ad hoc by college management, at times when the force was struggling with cutbacks.

July 2, 2015:

John Barrett raises his concerns internally and is asked to write a report for the Garda Audit Committee’s July meeting.

July 6, 2015:

John Barrett delivers his report, highlighting 21 key concerns, to then CAO, Cyril Dunne**. The Garda Audit Committee is not given the report.

July 2015:

John Barrett raises his concerns with the head of legal affairs, Ken Ruane.

July 24, 2015:

Ken Ruane writes to Ms O’Sullivan, advising her that the issues raised fall under Section 41 of the Garda Act 2005 which states that the commissioner shall inform the justice minister of matters of importance affecting the force.

July 27, 2015:

John Barrett meets with Ms O’Sullivan, Deputy Commissioner Donall O’Cualain, another deputy commissioner and Cyril Dunne at a reception in the college. He says the meeting lasts two and a half hours and that Ms O’Sullivan got a detailed account of the concerns. She says it was a five-minute briefing.

Nevertheless, she follows up by appointing Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll to investigate if any of the matters constitute criminality, and she directs Cyril Dunne to set up a working group, to include Department of Justice representatives, to also examine the issues. Niall Kelly is not in the group.

September 30, 2015:

The Garda Audit Committee is given an oral briefing on the issues raised in John Barrett’s report by Cyril Dunne but are not given the report.

March 29, 2016:

Niall Kelly is requested to conduct an audit of the college’s accounts, financial structures and procedures. The request is made by Donall O’Cualain.

May 2016:

John Barrett is asked by the chair of the Garda Audit Committee, Michael Howard, for full details of what has been going on. He is “shocked” by what he hears.

June 2016:

Niall Kelly discovers the McGee Report.

July 2016:

John Barrett confides in an independent legal adviser, writing to him about his concerns.

September 2016:

John Barrett’s job spec is changed and matters concerning internal affairs and Garda professional standards are removed from his remit.

October 2016:

Niall Kelly produces a draft of his interim audit report. Ms O’Sullivan informs the Justice Minister.

February 2017:

Niall Kelly completes his interim audit report, highlighting serious financial breaches at the college but stressing he has more work to do.

March 2017:

Niall Kelly’s report is made public by the commissioner and referred to the Public Accounts Committee.

*Nacie Rice retired in 2013.

**Cyril Dunne left later that year. Joseph Nugent now holds the position of chief administrative officer.

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