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1 August 2017 Edition

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New Taoiseach stands by Old Guard

Garda Commissioner takes 5-week holiday as police training college cash tangle unravels

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee reported numerous financial irregularities at the Garda Training College over more than a decade

LEO VARADKAR has “failed in his duties as Taoiseach” to act decisively to deal with the litany of scandals that has engulfed An Garda Síochhána, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has said. She was speaking after the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee’s first report into financial misconduct in the Garda Training College at Templemore was published on 19 July.

Numerous controversies have raised huge questions about senior management under Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and the issue of leadership within An Garda Síochána needs to be urgently addressed, the Dublin TD insisted.

“Whole-scale change is required. There is a need for a new dynamic from outside.”

The fact that the Garda Commissioner has left the country on holiday for a road trip in the USA lasting five weeks has raised eyebrows amongst politicians and commentators when her force still faces a number of investigations, inquiries and audits.

The Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – of which Mary Lou McDonald is a member – has uncovered a host of financial irregularities at the Garda Training College over more than a decade.

The PAC reports on the Garda Commissioner’s “persistent failure” to report for 10 months to the Department of Justice and the Comptroller & Auditor General the irregularities (including secret bank accounts) at the Garda Training College. The European Commission’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has now joined the investigation into possible misuse of EU funds.

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• Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan gives evidence at Leinster House

Justine McCarthy in The Sunday Times unravelled some of the Templemore tangle thus:

“Audits going back 11 years have uncovered a slush fund of 50 bank accounts; cheques made out to individual gardaí; Exchequer money intended for students’ laundry costs spent on ‘disallowable payments’; income from the credit union’s bar diverted to the restaurant company; undeclared company directorships; the withholding of information from the internal auditor; and so on.”

The Templemore revelations come on top of several controversies that would have seen a police chief in any other EU state resign. These include:-

  • The smear campaign against whistleblower Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe who exposed the widespread quashing of motoring penalty points, including for some journalists;
  • False Garda statistics claiming that two million alcohol breath tests were carried out on motorists between 2012 and 2016 when it was only half that number;
  • Garda testimony in the trial of six people acquitted in June of the false imprisonment of former Labour Party leader Joan Burton at a water charges protest in Jobstown highlighted by the judge to the jury as conflicting with video evidence.
Despite all this, the Taoiseach has reiterated his full confidence in the Garda Commissioner.

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• Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his ministers are backing the Garda Commissioner

The renewed defence of the embattled Garda Commissioner even after the damning PAC report was “extraordinary and unprecedented”, Mary Lou said.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader said:

“The Taoiseach condones the failure of the Garda Commissioner to inform the Minister for Justice of irregularities at Templemore.

“It is very worrying that the Taoiseach is content that Minister and Department of Justice were kept in the dark on such serious issues.

“The Taoiseach also condones the failure of the Commissioner to provide full and accurate information to the Comptroller & Auditor General.

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“He defends the Commissioner’s actions in withholding information from the C&AG in respect of Templemore.

“This is an unprecedented statement by the head of government and a direct challenge to the authority of the office of the C&AG

“The Taoiseach’s defensive arguments about the Commissioner’s discretion are threadbare and are at odds with the position of the C&AG and the Commissioners legal advisor – both reflected in the PAC report

“It is unprecedented that the head of government shows such disregard for the law, for good governance, and for a constitutional office of the state.

“In taking this position, Leo Varadkar has failed in his duties as Taoiseach.”

Even though Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin says his party does not support Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan staying in her post, he’s not going to put any pressure on his Fine Gael counterpart to remove her.

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD said it is “further proof of Fianna Fáil letting the Fine Gael Government off the hook”.

“Mícheál Martin and his party have had numerous opportunities to force this government to act – including a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence – but they just sit on their hands.”

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