Scope of Garda controversy broadens to Department of Justice

New Minister Charlie Flanagan faces his predecessor’s problems

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arriving at Leinster House for the Public Accounts Committee meeting on Tuesday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan arriving at Leinster House for the Public Accounts Committee meeting on Tuesday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

By acknowledging that the Department of Justice was at least partly aware of the extraordinary financial arrangements that were put in place at Templemore Garda Training College, the secretary general of the department, Noel Waters, has broadened the scope of the scandal and taken some pressure off Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Unorthodox financial arrangements that included bundling together State and external funding in providing Garda-related facilities was at least partly tolerated by the Department of Justice for years. Mr Waters confirmed the Department was aware of the funding model over the years and referred to it being a grey area that required clarification. But the most striking aspect of his evidence involved the absence of departmental records regarding these arrangements. The secretary general denied the existence of a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach, but it was difficult to draw any other conclusion.

Such an unholy alliance was implied in a letter sent from a senior Garda official to the Department of Justice in 2010 relating to the Templemore Garda college and the Revenue Commissioners. It was acknowledged that a claim for charitable status had been deliberately made “to muddy things up”. This would have distracted attention from specific concerns about improper accounting practices at the college.

An absence of records and memory lapses inhibited efforts by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to investigate these matters. In spite of that, committee members shone light into dark corners.

Seven hours of aggressive questioning on Tuesday produced confirmation that the Garda Commissioner had referred one bank account involving potentially criminal and fraudulent activity to the Garda Ombudsman for investigation. That investigation may take months, if not years. Its findings could coincide with recommendations from a commission on the future of policing, along with the expiry of this minority Government. No hurry, so.

Expectations that a new Taoiseach and a different Minister for Justice would respond to Fianna Fáil’s demand that O’Sullivan be sacked are beginning to wane. Ms O’Sullivan has denied that she traduced the character of whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Commissioner could claim a defence of due process in relation to administrative abuses involving phantom breath tests and unwarranted prosecutions.

New questions about the role played by the Department of Justice in relation to Templemore have presented incoming Minister Charlie Flanagan with a serious problem. The replacement of Frances Fitzgerald was expected. But the issues she confronted – and failed to deal with – remain.

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