The head of internal audit in the Garda Síochána has said he was “duped” into setting aside his inquiries into financial irregularities at the Garda College by reassurances from senior management that matters were being addressed.
Niall Kelly told the Public Accounts Committee that, with hindsight, he should not have accepted the reassurances. “I think there was a different culture at that stage. I think there was a culture of circling the wagons and I got caught trying to bang into the wagons,” he said.
Mr Kelly expressed concern about issues at the Garda College in Templemore in 2008 and 2009 and informed the then commissioner, Martin Callinan, but only returned to them in 2015 after a change in management.
His work since then has uncovered widespread breaches of financial and standards in public office legislation that the PAC said in some cases amounted to “embezzlement”.
His interim report — which prompted an overhaul of management structures at the college — was made public in March this year and his work is continuing.
It emerged Mr Kelly had direct dealings with the former deputy commissioner Nacie Rice, head of the college until 2013, who wrote a letter dismissing out of hand questions about financial management.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the letter, which Garda management said they had only discovered the day before, effectively amounted to Mr Rice saying: “feck off, this is our money”.
The PAC hearing, which lasted more than five hours, also heard that Mr Kelly’s unit was meant to have a staff of 11 but only had eight to oversee an organisation of 16,000 members and an annual budget of €1.6bn.
The meeting also heard contradictory evidence from Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and other senior staff and officials.
She said the Department of Justice was aware of financial irregularities at the Garda College for years despite the Department saying it only found out last year. She also insisted there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the college in Templemore while head of HR, John Barrett, stressed it was “too soon to say”.
Ms O’Sullivan and Mr Barrett also differed on whether a key meeting on the emerging crisis at the college lasted five minutes, as the commissioner maintained, or two and a quarter hours as Mr Barrett recalled.
Members said they had no confidence in the way Garda management were handling the revelations. PAC vice-chair, Labour’s Alan Kelly, said what he had heard so far was “extraordinary, incredible and frankly unbelievable”.
The hearing will resume in July.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved