Two civilian Garda members contradict Nóirín O’Sullivan

Nóirín O'Sullivan: Garda chief's evidence directly contradicted.
Nóirín O'Sullivan: Garda chief's evidence directly contradicted.

Two civilian members of the gardaí have directly contradicted formal evidence by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, insisting she knew about the Garda college financial scandal a month earlier than previously claimed.

The head of the gardaí’s legal affairs and HR units revealed the situation during a deeply divisive meeting during which they turned on their finance unit counterpart by accusing him of blocking investigations into the case, said they do not have confidence in senior management, and hinted at a new secret Garda bank account linked to EU funding and education grants.

Speaking during a six-hour Dáil Public Accounts Committee meeting, Labour TD and PAC deputy chair Alan Kelly asked senior Garda civilian officers when Ms O’Sullivan was first informed of the scandal.

The commissioner — who is due to re-appear at the PAC on June 14 — told the committee last month she only learned of the situation on July 27, 2015.

However, speaking under Dáil privilege, the two civilian officers said she was, in fact, informed at least one month earlier.

Responding to Mr Kelly, college whistleblower and the force’s civilian head of HR, John Barrett, said he was told by former chief administration officer Cyril Dunne that Ms O’Sullivan was told of the situation at a meeting on July 2.

While Mr Dunne was not present at yesterday’s PAC hearing, Mr Barrett said “that’s what Cyril told me and I have no reason to doubt him”.

The view was repeated by the Garda civilian head of legal affairs, Ken Ruane, who also confirmed Ms O’Sullivan was informed in a conversation on June 30 and at a meeting on July 2.

Mr Ruane said a formal meeting with Ms O’Sullivan took place on July 2 at 10.30am in the college, and he said there was a written note confirming this from Mr Barrett to Mr Ruane on July 6.

After describing the detailed evidence as a “direct contradiction” of Ms O’Sullivan’s view, Mr Kelly asked the Garda civilian head of finance Michael Culhane if he disagreed with any of the information, with Mr Culhane simply saying “no”.

The clear contradiction with Ms O’Sullivan came during a heated morning meeting in which Mr Culhane was repeatedly accused of attempting to block an investigation into the college scandal.

In his opening evidence to the PAC, Garda civilian audit chief Niall Kelly alleged he was encouraged not to investigate the case and had information “withheld” from him.

The view was repeated by Mr Barrett, who said there was a “very deliberate attempt at concealing” information by Mr Culhane and others.

Both Niall Kelly and Mr Barrett said they do not have confidence in senior management, while Mr Barrett said it was “appalling” a letter by Mr Culhane accusing him of breaching the Official Secrets Act by making private notes was given freely to the PAC despite Mr Barrett seeking it via FOI for years.

Although former Garda committee audit member Michael Howard and current head of legal affairs Mr Ruane said Mr Culhane was “hostile” to inquiries, Mr Culhane rejected the claims outright.

However, he was repeatedly put under scrutiny by PAC members.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc Sharry asked him “is it not you who at least by title be the subject of investigation into possible criminal procedures” given that Mr Culhane has been head of the Garda finance unit since 2000.

However, the view was strongly rejected by Mr Culhane.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan raised further questions about the controversy.

Questioning Mr Barrett over a new audit into EU funding and garda education courses for the Garda college since 1998 and whether they are linked to a previously unknown AIB account in Cabra, Dublin, she said: “My understanding is the proceeds of that are not going where they should be going.”

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