Garda crisis: Templemore Garda College finance issues flagged since 2008

Two previous Garda commissioners were informed of concerns about the lack of financial controls at the Garda Training College in Templemore as far back as 2008.

The force’s own finance directorate wrote to the then commissioner Fachtna Murphy in April that year to warn of “discrepancies”, warning that the situation “exposes the organisation to substantial risk”.

The commissioner agreed with the points made and some action was taken, but the necessary structural changes were not made.

As a result, in March 2011, the Garda Internal Audit Section (GIAS) — which was not aware of the earlier report — informed the next commissioner, Martin Callinan, that it could “provide no assurance in regard to the financial controls in place in the Garda College Templemore or the expenditure of the college”.

Again, some steps were taken, including the closure of 13 of the college’s 50 bank accounts, but no substantial reform was undertaken, so that almost exactly the same wording prefaces the latest report by the GIAS which warns: “GIAS can provide no assurance that the internal management and control systems in place to manage the finances at the Garda College are adequate.”

The new report covers 2009-2016, a period when the college had a state-funded budget of €11m to €24m annually, the yearly disparities being due to the fact that the college was without new recruits for more than three years because of government cutbacks.

The money appears to have been used as intended — to pay for the wages, facilities, accommodation, and catering for the trainees — but questions arise over the management of additional income the college had from its bar, restaurant, shop, and some of its sporting facilities.

The questionable items of expenditure and money transfers between accounts during this period amount to tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of euro.

There is no suggestion that money went astray or was used personally — some of it went to charity, for example — but the audit says the unnecessarily complex maze of bank accounts and sloppy — and in some cases bizarre — accounting practices makes it extremely difficult to track the movement of money or guarantee transparency.

The auditors lay much of the blame on the way the college management is structured, ie, left in the hands of senior gardaí, who might make good trainers in Garda techniques, but who have no training in administration, financial management, or the myriad of policies, procedures, and regulations a public body must apply when managing public funds, income, and expenditure.

A key recommendation is that the role of college administrator, traditionally held by a Garda superintendent, should go to a non-Garda official of principal officer grade with experience of public financial procedures, supported by an accountant, human resources specialist, and facilities manager.

Another is that gardaí of superintendent rank and above be routinely provided with training in financial controls in a proposed link-up between the Garda College and the Institute of Public Administration.

Other recommendations are that all but one or two of the college’s remaining dozens of bank accounts be closed, that a company formed to run the sports facilities be wound up, that all land and buildings be transferred to the control of the Office of Public Works (OPW), and that rental income obtained from lands also be transferred to the OPW.

According to a Garda progress report on the audit findings, external experts were brought in to advise on implementing the recommendations, with the result that a high-level steering committee and a project team have been put in place, external accountants have been appointed, and an interim administration team has been put in place at the college.

The main findings of the audit are:

  • The Garda Training College was run by gardaí who “had no training in or experience of administration and had no knowledge of public financial procedures”, including regulations on procurement, risk management, and corporate governance.
  • The college had 50 bank and investment accounts, many not warranted or sanctioned, and “the number of accounts and the complex switching of funds between accounts has resulted in a non-transparent system of accounting”.
  • Surplus income from the college restaurant was spent on non-restaurant items such as sports equipment, machinery, IT support, and a mobile stage for college events — in breach of proper management and accounting procedures.
  • Surplus income from the college laundry service was spent on miscellaneous gifts for retirements, meals, social events, and sporting activities — in breach of procedures.
  • Land bought by the Office of Public Works to provide a tactical training centre was rented out by the college to local farmers when the training centre project was shelved, despite gardaí being prohibited by law from entering into land-use contracts.
  • The rental income from this land was lodged in the bank account of the college restaurant instead of going to the OPW, and some was spent on entertainment and sporting events — all in breach of procedures.
  • There was also repeated spending on insurance policies which is considered questionable given that state bodies and agencies are insured by the State itself.
  • Money which was received from the European Commission to provide training schemes but was not used was retained in deposit accounts instead of being returned to the commission.
  • A number of gardaí became directors of a company, Sportsfield Co Ltd, they set up to develop and manage the sports facilities, again in breach of the law that prohibits them being involved in land contracts and also in breach of the law that prohibits them acting as company directors without permission from the justice minister which they did not have.
  • Many of these issues were identified in a 2008 audit and a 2011 report but the findings were largely rejected and/or ignored.
  • The report can only be termed an “interim” audit as investigation is needed of college accounts between 2002 and 2008, and there are still issues between 2009 and 2016 that require further examination.

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