Minister stands by commissioner after Garda ‘cover up’ claim

Leo Varadkar says Government is ‘very concerned’ by latest allegations

Testimony given by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to a Dáil committee has been undermined by written records of a two-hour meeting. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has again expressed confidence in Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan amid rising political pressure over her response to the discovery of financial irregularities at the Garda training college in Templemore.

Speaking at a sod turning ceremony for a new forensic science laboratory in Co Kildare, Ms Fitzgerald expressed concern about the latest claims from the Garda’s human resources director John Barrett but said Ms O’Sullivan retained the Government’s confidence.

Ms Fitzgerald also refused to criticise Ms O’Sullivan for deciding not to immediately inform her of the concerns over Templemore.

“The Garda Commissioner has to make decisions on a daily basis on a whole range of operational matters and gets legal advice on many, many issues. Whether at a particular moment in time she gets advice to make a referral, it is her decision,” the Minister said.

“I do have confidence in the Garda Commissioner. She is implementing change. It’s very difficult.

“All of these events just illustrate how much change is needed at a broader level, in terms of management, in terms of speed of response, in terms of informing various authorities. All of this clearly is in need of change. That’s why I’m establishing an overall broad commission to examine them.”

‘Conflict of evidence’

Earlier, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said he welcomed the information revealed by Mr Barrett at the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

“I welcome the fact that the information was put in the public domain. There is a conflict of evidence between the commissioner and Mr Barrett,” Mr Varadkar said.

“It is not my function to determine where the truth lies but I do think it is in the public interest that this information is put in the public domain and that people can be held to account.”

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On the contrasting accounts given by the commissioner and Mr Barrett about a meeting they had on July 27th, 2015, the Minister said: “What’s more important than how long the meeting lasted is what was done on foot of it. External auditors have been brought in and there is an auditor report before the PAC.

“It is important that financial procedures are changed in the Garda college and that this doesn’t happen again, that there is accountability. Like a lot of citizens in this country we’re growing increasingly frustrated that these revelations are made and investigated, but nobody is ever held to account.

“There is accountability in this case but there needs to be fair process and due process.”

Ms O’Sullivan said there was a brief exchange over a cup of tea at the July 2015 meeting but Mr Barrett contradicted that by claiming it was a two-hour meeting, ending at 7.37pm.

Documentation

In further documentation to the PAC, Mr Barrett claims senior gardaí sought to cover-up financial irregularities at Templemore Garda college for decades.

Mr Varadkar said the Government had confidence in the Garda Commissioner but it was “very concerned” about the further revelations of financial malpractice in the training college.

Elsewhere, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly reiterated her call for Ms O’Sullivan to resign.

She told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show: “This is the sixth major controversy. We can’t sit back and take the attitude ‘let’s see what comes out of it’; there has been a cumulative effect.

Ms Daly said the commissioner had ignored her legal obligation to inform the Minister about the financial irregularities as soon as she learned about them.

“She [the commissioner] has become adept at saying the problem was before her time.

“The Minister is her boss, the idea that she would not inform her is incredible.”

In his correspondence, seen by The Irish Times, Mr Barrett says large sums of money were managed and moved outside of the purview of the normal accounting structures of An Garda Síochána by way of 42 unauthorised bank accounts opened and managed by Garda personnel.

This process was understood over many years by those in roles charged with probity and “the entire edifice seems to have stood protected from enquiry while remaining in plain view”.

Mr Barrett further claims there have been tangible efforts made to isolate his office since he first raised concerns about financial irregularities at the college.

He said he was urged to be “very careful” when he questioned why an internal audit team, which was examining the issue last year, was not aware of previous audits conducted in 2008, 2010 or 2015.

Mr Barrett also describes how his professional influence within the organisation from a wide range of key decision areas has subsided since he began drawing attention to the irregularities.