Garda Commissioner rejects media training expenditure claims

Nóirín O’Sullivan denies €140,000 spent on training her for difficult public appearances

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan: “I never received any preparatory training and I’m not sure where that reporting came from.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan: “I never received any preparatory training and I’m not sure where that reporting came from.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has dismissed media reports that she underwent media training paid for from public funds to prepare her for difficult public appearances.

Ms O’Sullivan said while a sum of €93,000 was spent by the Garda in 2015 on public relations agencies, she never underwent any training.

Several media reports in recent months have suggested she was being assisted by public relations expert Terry Prone to help her through difficult appearances before the Public Accounts Committee, Policing Authority and other agencies meeting in public session.

Some of the reports have suggested that Ms Prone was regularly visiting Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, to personally coach Ms O’Sullivan.

But answering questions on Thursday morning at the Public Accounts Committee, which was examining Garda expenditure in 2015, Ms O’Sullivan denied she had been trained.

“I’ve seen a lot of speculation in terms of particularly a figure of €140,000 mentioned which apparently I spent in preparing for PAC meetings,” she said.

“That’s completely untrue. I never received any preparatory training and I’m not sure where that reporting came from.”

Marc MacSharry TD (FF) pointed out Garda expenditure on “PR firms” had increased to €93,000 in 2015, up from €10,400 previously.

Broadcast media

Ms O’Sullivan said the money was used for public awareness campaigns around Operation Thor and the “Lock-up, Light-up” campaign to advise the public on guarding against burglaries. Senior officers were also trained to appear in the broadcast media as part of a process that would see the Garda become more open.

Ms O’Sullivan also strongly rejected suggestions from David Cullinane TD (SF) that a final report on the Garda inflating drink-driving breath testing numbers had been stalled for “cynical” reasons.

He told her the committee was hoping to have had the final report by now in order that she could be questioned about it at Thursday’s meeting.

However, Ms O’Sullivan said the report was not being stalled. She pointed out that Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan had been given six months to finalise the report.

It would be completed by the end of next month, ahead of schedule, she said.

Mr Cullinane found it “incredible” that two interim reports on the issue “don’t say much at all”. The final report was still not ready, though the PAC had been hoping to put its findings to Ms O’Sullivan at the meeting.

“Would you forgive us for being cynical about that; that there are other motives potentially as to why that report was not completed?” he asked Ms O’Sullivan.

However, in sharp exchanges, Ms O’Sullivan said she was “rejecting an accusation of any nature that we were acting in any way sinister” over the timing of the final report on inflated breath tests.