As the dust settles on Wednesday’s Public Accounts Committee hearing into Templemore College, what are the issues facing Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan when she appears before it again on June 14?
At one point during the hearing, an exasperated PAC chairman Sean Fleming said to the senior garda civil servants that, “in the interests of the good standing of An Garda Síochána”, could someone please tell him who has responsibility to ensure tax compliance at Templemore?
“I’m getting blanks,” Deputy Fleming said when he was greeted with silence.
Joe Nugent, chief administrative officer (CAO), said the “nub of the problem” is that some of the entities at the college are not Garda ones and that no garda seems to have any control or responsibility for them.
But he pointed out that some of the directors of these entities (the biggest being Sportsfield) are actually serving senior gardaí.
PAC deputies, Fine Gael’s Peter Burke included, sought in vain for basic answers, such as: how many tax numbers are there and are they tax compliant.
There are related issues: how many senior gardaí are directors of companies, such as Sportsfield, and have they fulfilled their legal requirements regarding declarations of public interest and tax compliance to the Standards in Public Office Commission.
Deputy Fleming gave Mr Nugent 24 hours to come back with the answers.
But, as the committee was repeatedly told, Commissioner O’Sullivan is the accounting officer for the force.
Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy pointed out that none of the commissioners had raised the financial issues at Templemore with his office.
He said the matters “should have been disclosed” and said the “obligation” rests with the accounting officer ultimately.
The commissioner insisted in her previous appearance that the first she heard of financial irregularities at Templemore was on July 27, 2015, during a five-minute chat over a cup of tea with the head of human resources John Barrett.
She said she acted promptly and set up a working group to investigate the matter the following day.
Mr Barrett previously said the meeting ran for more than two hours.
Head of legal affairs Ken Ruane said on Wednesday he had a handwritten note from Mr Barrett telling him on June 30 that matters relating to the college were reported to the then CAO Cyril Dunne who had, in turn, briefed the commissioner.
Mr Barrett said he wrote to Mr Dunne on July 2 in which he said he was delighted Mr Dunne had briefed the commissioner the previous week.
The committee also heard that both Mr Barrett and Mr Culhane have confirmed that they were at a working group on this issue on July 2, set up and chaired by Mr Dunne.
Mr Ruane confirmed that he was first aware on July 6 that the working group had been set up.
In October 2015, Mr Culhane sent a letter to Commissioner O’Sullivan asking if Mr Barrett had been unwittingly guilty of a criminal offence under the Official Secrets Act for expressing concerns about finances at Templemore and sending copies of a report into irregularities to his home.
Mr Barrett said he is “appalled” that the letter was given to PAC but refused to him, despite asking for it from the commissioner six times, either directly or through his solicitor. He got a 85% redacted version under the Freedom of Information Act. He said the matter raises issues of “rights of natural justice and constitutional procedure” and that he will be “making further inquiries”.
Another key letter is one sent to Commissioner O’Sullivan by the head of the Garda external audit committee, Michael Howard, on his retirement last April, in which he raises his concerns regarding a letter sent by Mr Culhane last February to Mr Kelly regarding his draft internal audit.
Mr Culhane criticises the “lack of objective professionalism” in Mr Kelly’s audits, demands changes, and accuses him of being “judge, jury and executioner”.
Howard’s letter said this intervention affected the “integrity” of the internal audit process and called for either the “unconditional withdrawal” of Mr Culhane’s remarks or for them to be “overruled by a superior authority”.
Both Mr Barrett and Mr Kelly said they did not have full confidence in every member of Garda management, although Mr Kelly later changed that to say he does have full confidence in the commissioner and the deputy commissioner.
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