Government backs Nóirín O’Sullivan despite PAC criticism

Garda Commissioner granted five-week leave of absence amid Templemore row fallout

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee found Garda management was given several opportunities to resolve issues at Templemore college but failed to do so. PAC also expressed ‘grave concerns’ regarding the Dept of Justice's oversight of the force.

 

Government Ministers have expressed full confidence in Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan despite allegations from TDs that she sought to “cover-up” financial irregularities at the Garda training college in Templemore.

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee issued a report into the issues at the college on Tuesday which found several failures on the part of the commissioner, senior management of An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice.

The committee concluded that a culture of withholding information, providing inadequate details and keeping issues internally to avoid external scrutiny exists within the force.

The report alleges there is “a greater concern to minimise reputational damage to the organisation” than to deal with issues raised.

The report criticises Ms O’Sullivan for failing to inform the department and the Comptroller and Auditor General of the financial mismanagement at Templemore when she first became aware of it on July 27th, 2015.

“It is the committee’s view that there was an assumption within An Garda Síochána that the Garda college was different to other public sector bodies and was exempt from certain rules.”

Ms O’Sullivan has not commented on the report but her spokesman said she would study the contents in full before making any statement.

Leave of absence

The Irish Times has learned that Ms O’Sullivan has been granted a five-week leave of absence from the end of this month.

A Garda spokesman said this was a matter between the commissioner and the department and that Ms O’Sullivan would be replaced by a deputy commissioner during that period.

The committee’s report was based on evidence heard during a number of public hearings and on hundreds of documents provided by gardaí.

It found there were “significant professional tensions” evident between members of senior Garda management and “a notable absence of a sense of common purpose”. The “level of disagreement ” would undermine their ability to fully resolve issues, it said.

Five of the 10 committee members present said the inquiry’s conclusions should warrant the immediate resignation of Ms O’Sullivan, who they said was in an untenable position.

Labour TD Alan Kelly and Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry alleged Ms O’Sullivan had engaged in a “cover-up” by shielding the issues from the appropriate bodies.

Mr MacSharry said that if the Garda “were a private enterprise there may well have been arrests by now but what the committee witnesses is a continuing culture in certain quarters of senior Garda leadership of ‘do as we say but not as we do.’”

Significant findings

The Policing Authority, established to provide oversight of the force, said it had noted the significant findings of the committee and would discuss the report at its next meeting on Thursday week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister for Transport Shane Ross restated their confidence in Ms O’Sullivan ahead of a discussion of the report at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.

The report is also highly critical of the Department of Justice, stating that it has “grave concerns” regarding the level of oversight of the Garda.

The committee said the department had allowed significant financial and governance issues to develop at Templemore and that it had difficulty accepting its stated lack of awareness in this issue. Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said the department has been unable to locate any records to indicate when it first became aware of the issues.