Garda college whistleblower met with 'deafening silence' by senior officials

The whistleblower who revealed the Garda college financial scandal has alleged he was met with a “deafening silence” by senior officials after raising the scale of the escalating controversy.

John Barrett made the claim in a 122-page document in which he alleged a “cover-up” of what happened, claimed auditors were “purposely kept in the dark”, and further undermined Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s claims that she was unaware of the scale of the crisis at least two years ago.

In a tense Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting last Thursday, Ms O’Sullivan said she acted swiftly to set up a team to examine the concerns at the garda college when they emerged during a five-minute meeting with Mr Barrett in July 2015.

Mr Barrett, Garda head of human resources, last week rejected this suggestion, saying the detailed meeting “ran for well over two hours” and that no attempt was made at investigate what happened.

He told the PAC he would produce his own private notes proving that his concerns were ignored.

And, in a detailed private memo from the period given to the PAC last night, he provided evidence which entirely contradicts Ms O’Sullivan’s version of events.

In correspondence given to the PAC and seen by the Irish Examiner, Mr Barrett said he first raised his concerns about transactions at the garda college in July 2015 during a two-and-a-half hour meeting with Ms O’Sullivan, garda head of legal affairs Ken Ruane, and assistant garda commissioner John Twomey.

He said the meeting specifically raised concerns over how income generated from various garda college areas was put in more than 40 unauthorised accounts.

Mr Barrett’s notes show he described the issues as an “abuse of the public purse”, outlined spending on entertainment and other issues, and should “never be allowed to happen again”.

However, despite warning at the time he believed the matter “was deliberately and systematically kept outside the purview of the statutory audit committee”, he said Ms O’Sullivan failed to act on what she was told.

Mr Barrett’s documents state that, despite spending “almost 450 hours of time” examining the issue, he received “almost no meaningful external assistance” and that similar difficulties befell the head of the gardaí’s internal audit unit, Niall Kelly.

He said Ms O’Sullivan’s failure to act on advice from Mr Ruane to contact Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald over the July 2015 revelations, and her decision to instead set up an internal team to look at the issue, “led to real concerns the actions being taken would be seen as an effort to cover up”.

Mr Barrett said he held a further meeting with chief accounting officer Cyril Dunne in April 2, 2016, at which point he said his concerns were “vindicated”, as it emerged that, “some nine months later [after meeting Ms O’Sullivan] the claims, he [Mr Dunne] confirmed to me he remained in the dark [over the issues]”.

In a meeting with the chair of the audit committee, Michael Howard, on June 2, 2016, Mr Barrett said none of the audit committee’s meetings between summer 2015 and 2016 raised the garda college concerns.

However, while he said Mr Howard took the concerns seriously, Mr Howard later met with Ms O’Sullivan and seven weeks after had yet to hold any follow-up talks over the financial scandal — adding in a separate letter revealed last night he believes auditors were “purposely kept in the dark”.

“I am struck by the contrast between his [Mr Howard’s] desire to have a follow-up meeting and the deafening silence which has followed,” Mr Barrett wrote in internal notes at the time.

Labour TD and PAC deputy chairman Alan Kelly last night said Government must remove Ms O’Sullivan and act to investigate the allegations, a position echoed by Sinn Féin, with Fianna Fáil saying Government is “now at a juncture”.

A garda spokesperson said some of the matters were raised at the PAC meeting last week and a full-scale investigation is ongoing.

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