Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of undermining both the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in a dispute over a report on the Garda college in Templemore.
The committee has described the failure of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to inform the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Minister for Justice of financial irregularities at the college as a “cover-up”.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said: “It is important to bear in mind it is the judgment of the Garda Commissioner whether the Minister and the C&AG should be informed.
“The explanation she has given and holds to to date is that she wanted to get all the facts ready before doing so...Under law it is her judgment, and not somebody else’s.”
Under the Garda Síochána Act it is at the discretion of the commissioner as to when she should notify the Minister for Justice. The commissioner is required to make all financial issues known to the the C&AG.
PAC chairman Seán Fleming said it was a black and white issue that the commissioner should have notified the CA&G. “That is not a matter of discretion. The commissioner has said she has learned lessons from that decision.”
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said the Taoiseach had sought to undermine the CA&G and the PAC. He also claimed Mr Varadkar had initiated a dangerous precedent by claiming accounting officers could choose what they tell the CA&G.
“It is a pathetic response by the Taoiseach. You either support the PAC and the CA&G or you don’t. The Government has wished the Templemore problem away by stressing the PAC is investigating it, and then when the report is issued they ignored the conclusions.”
Labour TD Alan Kelly also criticised Mr Varadkar’s comments, saying the Taoiseach had offered State bodies the opportunity to shield information from the State’s accounting officer, the CA&G.
Mr Kelly said it was a disgraceful comment, and called on the Taoiseach to reflect on them.
Mr Varadkar defended the decision of the commissioner to take an extended holiday break. Ms O’Sullivan has sought five weeks’ annual leave, a decision many opposition politicians have criticised and which will see her miss a meeting with the Garda’s oversight body, the Policing Authority.
Mr Varadkar said she was “entitled” to her holidays, and it was not his responsibility to regulate her time off.
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach held the first meeting of the National Security Committee with a number of Ministers, the commissioner and officers of the Defence Forces on Thursday to discuss Ireland's preparations in light of a possible terrorist attack.