Management at the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, sanctioned overnight allowances to gardaí based at the college even though no overnight stay was involved in their work trips, an internal Garda audit has found.
It recommended the practice not be allowed to continue and that any overpayments made to Garda members should be recouped, though the audit suggest they were underpaid.
The overnight allowances, which are not taxable, were claimed for and paid out in lieu of overtime, on which tax would have been paid.
The audit found while Garda College management had sanctioned the practice to save money, it could have resulted in a breach of the Garda code of ethics and incorrect accounts being compiled.
Garda management accepted most of the recommendations in the audit, including putting a stop to the practice of paying overnight allowances in lieu of overtime, which ended last autumn.
However, it said further information was required from the Garda Internal Audit Service (GIAS) before it could assess if there was an outstanding tax liability and if individual gardaí had been overpaid or underpaid.
Blocks of training
The report was compiled by the GIAS, which reviewed expense claims for the period January 2020 to April 2021. The audit report was obtained, under the Freedom of Information Act, by the Right to Know transparency group and subsequently published.
The group specialises in using the Freedom of Information Act to access, and publish, information it believes the public is entitled to know.
In most of the 14 expenses claimed reviewed by the audit team, the Garda members travelled from the college, in official cars, to other destinations to deliver training for blocks of four days. Most of the claims involved four return trips by car, of 1½ hours’ overtime each way, as well as a daily subsistence payment of €21.86.
Each of those claims, which were identical, should have resulted in a sum of €567.44 being paid. However, because an overnight rate was paid rather than overtime, some €430.76 was paid out, representing a saving of €136.68 on each claim.
Overnight v overtime
The audit noted during the recession the Garda College had closed. When it reopened in 2009-2010, a decision was made by management to keep to a minimum expenditure incurred by staff travelling to other parts of the Republic to deliver training. The decision to pay an overnight rate, rather than overtime, was part of those efforts to save money.
The audit notes management said it believed this decision was within the ethos of the Garda Síochána finance code and generally in keeping with financial prudence within the Garda.
The audit concluded the savings in the vast majority of claims scrutinised was 32 per cent. However, in one case the saving was 65 per cent and, in another, it was 72 per cent. In one claim, the total amount payable was €959.95 but only €452.62 was paid.
Of 14 expenses claims reviewed, 12 involved the payment of overnight allowances though the Garda members were not away overnight. In the case of 10 travel and subsistence expenses claims, there was “no evidence pre-approval was obtained”. In other cases, the Garda members claiming the expenses offered “vague descriptions” of the duties they performed.