Fresh pressure on garda boss to resign

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan is facing fresh calls to resign after a damning Dáil report led to claims she and others tried to “cover up” the garda college financial scandal.

A series of opposition parties demanded Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “act decisively and soon” after the publication of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee report into the controversy.

The 71-page report was drawn up in response to financial mismanagement concerns at the facility first highlighted in unpublished 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2011 internal garda reports. It was published yesterday after months of meetings with Ms O’Sullivan, garda college officials, the Department of Justice and whistle-blowers.

The concerns were raised after a 2016 internal audit leaked this year said the college had more than 50 secret bank accounts, was linked to EU money being transferred to privately held accounts, suffered a crippling lack of spending oversight, and that whistleblowers were threatened with demotion.

The report found Ms O’Sullivan “failed” in her duties by not informing then justice minister Frances Fitzgerald when she learned of what happened in summer 2015, and gave initially misleading claims to the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) about the scandal.

It also warned “there is a culture within the force of withholding information, providing inadequate information and keeping issues internal to avoid external scrutiny”, and criticised the Department of Justice’s “unacceptable” failure to keep track of the situation.

The PAC was legally unable to call for Ms O’Sullivan to be removed from her position due to the restrictions on Dáil committee reports.

However, speaking after the report’s publication, opposition PAC member TDs said the Garda commissioner must be removed.

“I have no issue with the use of the words ‘cover-up’,” said PAC deputy chair and Labour TD Alan Kelly. “I’ve been on record for a long time saying the Garda Commissioner’s position is totally untenable. This [the PAC report] ... aligned with the treatment of whistle-blowers, issues in relation to penalty points and numerous other issues means the Government is now in a position where they have to act.”

Sinn Féin TD and fellow PAC member Mary Lou McDonald agreed, saying Mr Varadkar needs to “act decisively and soon”, a view repeated by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who said the “cumulative” effect of repeated garda scandals involving Ms O’Sullivan is “undermining the force”.

While PAC chair and Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming, with colleagues Shane Cassels and Bobby Aylward, said the party is not calling for Ms O’Sullivan to resign “today”, fellow Fianna Fáil PAC member Marc MacSharry repeated his call for her to be removed due to claims she “covered up” the financial scandal.

However, despite the demand, the only Fine Gael PAC member present at yesterday’s report launch, Peter Burke, said Ms O’Sullivan should not be removed.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said the Taoiseach still has full confidence in Ms O’Sullivan. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan repeated the view, while Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe last night said Ms O’Sullivan should remain.

“I have full confidence in Commissioner O’Sullivan,” said Mr Donohoe. “The Policing Authority will be making appointments in the future and I know they are studying the implementation of the interim report.”

The Policing Authority said last night it noted the PAC’s “significant findings” and will examine them “formally at the next authority meeting on July 27”.

A garda spokesperson said it will comment once it has “reviewed” the findings. The garda college controversy is the subject of investigations by Revenue, Gsoc, Sipo, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, the C&AG, and potentially the Central Bank under “money laundering” legislation.

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