Nóirín O’Sullivan in new crisis over Garda college finances

Garda Commissioner contradicted by HR chief over meeting on Templemore irregularities

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday. Screengrab: Oireachtas TV

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on Thursday. Screengrab: Oireachtas TV

 

Sharp differences have emerged between Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan and the Garda director of human resources over a meeting they both attended on financial irregularities at the Garda training college in Templemore.

The director of HR, John Barrett, a civilian officer, said the meeting lasted more than two hours.

The Commissioner said there was no meeting, just a “brief” exchange over a cup of tea in 2015.

They appeared side-by-side as part of a Garda delegation before a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday which was held to discuss an internal audit into financial practices at Templemore.

At the PAC meeting, which lasted more than five hours, the Commissioner said that in July 2015, she was having a cup of tea in a room in the Templemore college when Mr Barrett informed her there were problems.

The meeting was brief and it was the first time she knew of any concerns in relation to spending at the Garda training college, she said.

Evidence contradicted

However, Mr Barrett then contradicted her evidence. He said the meeting lasted for more than two hours.

He produced notes which he said he had taken at the time he met her and in which he had recorded the start and finish time of the meeting, as well as who was present, the issues discussed and the order in which people had walked into the room.

The clear divide between a Garda commissioner and another senior member of the Garda organisation emerging in public in this way is unprecedented.

During the Oireachtas committee meeting, some members of the PAC told Ms O’Sullivan repeatedly that her responses to questions were not adequate.

She will appear before the committee again in July and was asked to immediately supply a large volume of information in response to questions left unanswered yesterday.

Mr Barrett suggested to the PAC that Ms O’Sullivan was briefed more comprehensively about the problems at the college than she claims.

Significant matter

Exactly what she knew and when is important, because under Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act a Garda commissioner is legally obliged to inform the minister of the day of any significant matter that would undermine public confidence in the force.

Ms O’Sullivan confirmed to the PAC that the head of the Garda’s legal services, Ken Ruane, spoke of Section 41 of the Act when advising her of the concerns relating to Templemore back in 2015.

However, she decided against immediately bringing the matter to the attention of Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. Instead, a working group was established to examine the issues.

When a first report from that group was available 13 months later, it was forwarded to Ms Fitzgerald.

She also said she did not know enough about the financial problems in Templemore to immediately bring them to Ms Fitzgerald’s attention.