Exposure of Garda culture latest blow to tarnished image

Nóirín O’Sullivan’s credibility and authority further damaged by PAC report

The Public Accounts Committee found a systemic failure by senior Garda management to take the necessary decisions to resolve financial mismanagement. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The Public Accounts Committee found a systemic failure by senior Garda management to take the necessary decisions to resolve financial mismanagement. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

A culture of withholding information, providing inadequate details and keeping issues internal to avoid external scrutiny. A notable absence of common purpose and profound professional disagreement among senior management.

An organisation divided between those who wish to preserve the status quo and who believe protection of reputation is of principal concern and those who seek to implement reforms even if it involves reputational risk.

That was the damning view of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on the culture and ethos of An Garda Síochána.

The committee’s interim report on financial mismanagement at Templemore Garda training college gives a frightening insight into the severe dysfunction at the top level of the force.

Offered numerous opportunities to rectify the financial issues in the college, senior management failed to act on revelations of 50 bank accounts, public money going to privately owned bodies and land being rented out without consent.

The committee found a systemic failure by senior Garda management to take the necessary decisions to resolve the financial mismanagement. It found failures of corporate governance, information shielded from internal audit and refusals to inform the Minister for Justice or advise the State spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General.

The report points to bank accounts being opened without consent, European Union funds not being used for their rightful purpose, and irregular and unacceptable transfers of large amounts of money between bar and restaurant accounts in the college.

Financial malpractice

Rather embarrassingly, the committee also confirmed the Garda had still not been in a position to declare whether the organisation was tax-compliant.

Tales of financial malpractice in the State are not few and far between but this is not a small business or an independent financial firm. An Garda Síochána is the body tasked with upholding the law of the land and it has been found to have breached financial procedures on numerous occasions.

The consequences are significant for public confidence in the force. The fault cannot be laid solely at the door of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan as the irregularities went on over many years and were well-shielded from those they might have been of concern to.

The issues identified in an interim audit report from earlier this year, the basis on which the committee began its inquiry, were the very same as concerns outlined in reports in 2008 and 2010.

To the credit of O’Sullivan, the most recent report was published in full and its findings scrutinised by the Dáil committee. However, she cannot escape criticism.

Having learned of the issues on July 27th, 2015, the commissioner should have followed the instruction of her legal affairs team and informed the Minister for Justice. She should have made the issues known to the Comptroller and Auditor General when she filed the annual accounts on July 31st, 2015.

Failed in duties

She did not and, as the committee said, therefore failed in her duties as accounting officer of An Garda Síochána.

Worryingly the report also confirms that the practice of sidelining those who raise concerns about the actions of members of the force is ongoing. The committee found two senior figures had their roles changed when they sought to ensure the financial issues were addressed.

O’Sullivan cannot but address these important issues. Her position remains secure due to the ongoing support of the Government but this report is yet another blow to her credibility and authority.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan are highly unlikely to try to remove a commissioner from her position without plenty of ammunition. It appears the Government and Fianna Fáil are happy to shift responsibility for deciding on the commissioner’s future to the Policing Authority.

The Public Accounts Committee has yet to fully complete its work on Templemore, and four additional audits are to be considered by it in due course.

These conclusions may well be just the tip of the iceberg.