Day-long PAC meeting to hear evidence after claims Garda chiefs block probe into college scandal

The head of the gardaí’s internal audit unit has said his “direct superiors” tried to block a probe into the Garda college scandal, “withheld” information and tried to “undermine” his position when the inquiry began.

Day-long PAC meeting to hear evidence after claims Garda chiefs block probe into college scandal

The claims will be made by Niall Kelly today at a meeting in which it will also be alleged a senior officer urged Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to investigate whistleblower John Barrett because his private record-keeping of what happened may have breached the Official Secrets’ Act.

Documents seen by the Irish Examiner are due to be discussed at a special day-long Dáil public accounts committee meeting today.

And while the files will be countered by a senior officer’s emails showing they were open to examining the issue from as early as 2008, they highlight the growing divisions in the force.

In a written statement to the PAC, Garda internal audit chief Mr Kelly — one of seven civilian officers due to be questioned today without the presence of Garda management — will claim his investigations were repeatedly blocked and undermined.

Mr Kelly will tell the cross-party committee between 2008 and 2011 he believes “some people did not want the newly appointed and very independent internal auditor [Mr Kelly]” to look “too critically into the Garda college”, and that “these people included my direct superiors”. The audit chief will say that when he sought information it was “withheld from me”, and will claim he was misled in September 2015 about whether he could examine the case.

“I was informed legal issues were being advanced in regard to the land and employee status and until they were resolved it would be unwise to commence an audit,” he will say.

“I now know that I was misinformed... [Garda head of legal affairs] Ken Ruane was advising from July 2015 onward that internal audit should be requested immediately.”

Mr Kelly — who confirmed two new audits into Garda college EU funding since 1998 and current controls of cash have been launched and are due in July — will also claim that his “motives, professional integrity, and competence” were questioned in two letters sent in October 2016 and February 2017 by senior management.

However, despite alleging “there was and may still be a culture of keeping problems in-house and away from transparent public scrutiny”, the claim will be staunchly rejected by another civilian officer.

In records provided to the PAC and as part of his own evidence, head of Garda finance Michael Culhane will reject any suggestion that management failed to address what happened.

Mr Culhane, who was finance officer throughout the Garda college controversy, will provide management emails from January 7, 2008, to March 4, 2011, confirming he, assistant commissioners and the chief administration officer all sought to allow and act on an investigation.

Mr Culhane will tell the PAC it has “significant gaps” in its information and that whistleblower garda HR executive Mr Barrett — who will also attend the meeting — provided it with “partial and inaccurate representations”. However, Mr Culhane is also expected to be questioned over an October 24, 2015, letter to management in which he suggested Ms O’Sullivan should consider setting up an investigation into Mr Barrett over concerns his private records — key to the case — could breach the Official Secrets’ Act “as his intent may appear to be to cause damage” to the gardaí.

Meanwhile, during an unrelated Dáil leaders’ questions debate Taoiseach Enda Kenny said reports a phone belonging to Ms O’Sullivan had gone missing will be probed by the Charleton tribunal. Mr Kenny was responding to Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry, who asked “was that phone officially reported missing, if so, when exactly” and suggested that Ms O’Sullivan may have a second phone.

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