Taoiseach Leo Varadkar taking Leaders’ Questions earlier today
Earlier this afternoon.
During Leaders’ Questions.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked about the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary.
Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald reminded Mr Varadkar of several items that emerged in the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, including:
Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan claims she first learned of the concerns about the Garda College on July 27, 2015 when head of HR John Barrett briefed her and others about the matters.
Mr Barrett claims he was told by College Administrator Sgt Pat McCabe that Ms O’Sullivan knew as early as June 23, 2015, while Mr Barrett claims former Chief Administrative Officer Cyril Dunne told him Ms O’Sullivan knew on June 30, 2015.
Either way, on July 31, 2015 – four days after the briefing from Mr Barrett – Ms O’Sullivan wrote a letter to the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy stating: “I have disclosed to you all the instances of loss, fraud or irregularity are known to have occurred or have been reported”.
But she didn’t disclose the matters concerning the Garda College to Mr McCarthy.
And the C&AG was only eventually made aware on May 31, 2016,by the head of internal audit Niall Kelly – who has previously cla
Readers may wish to recall that at a previous PAC meeting, on June 14, 2017, the current Chief Administration Officer at the College Dónall Ó Cualáin said:
“At that point [October 2015], the advice was that the legal advice had to be sought and obtained before Mr [Niall] Kelly could commence his work [audit], all the bank accounts had to be closed, and all the moneys and investments had to be brought into one account. All that work was ongoing.”
It’s understood this advice was not from Head of Legal Affairs Ken Ruane but from Cyril Dunne.
Further to this, Ms McDonald asked Mr Varadkar if he has confidence in Noirin O’Sullivan, who became interim Garda Commissioner in 2014.
Further to this…
Mr Varadkar replied:
“Yes, I do have confidence in the Garda Commissioner and the Government does, too. The problems that are besetting the gardai are long-standing. Many, most, if not all of the problems that beset the gardai predate her becoming Garda Commissioner. And I believe that she is somebody who is fighting many battles on many fronts in an effort to put things right.”
The [PAC] session was mammoth and the line of questioning was robust. But at times it seemed unfair to the witness.
O’Sullivan faced committee members that have already decided she is unfit for office. Can she expect a fair hearing when at least 10 of the 13 members have stated publicly they believe she should be removed as commissioner?
Labour leader Brendan Howlin claimed a payment made to Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty was in breach of legislation.
Brendan Howlin said:
“Taoiseach, last week, you unveiled your new Cabinet. It included an unprecedented number of ministers of state with the right to attend at Cabinet. Within 24 hours, it emerged that one of these four ministers could not receive the corresponding allowance without a change in the law….
“Over the weekend, the situation got worse. It has now emerged that a payment of a a third such allowance to the Government chief whip [Regina Doherty] from last year was also unlawful.
“The whip was paid an allowance of €15,829 for her role as Government whip. No such position exists under law. It is clear from documents released under Freedom of Information that the allowance was paid to the Government whip on the understanding that the Government whip was actually being paid for her responsibilities as Fine Gael whip. This might seem like a technical and minor matter however,r under the law, no allowance can be paid to a party whip, if that person is a minister or a minister for state.
“This means that you cannot pay such an allowance to the new Government chief whip. It also means that an illegal overpayment has been made to Minster Doherty.
From top: Solidarity TD Mick Barry; Taoiseach Enda Kenny
During Leaders’ Questions.
Solidarity TD Mick Barry raised the matter of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s missing phone.
“Former Garda Press Officer Superintendent Dave Taylor claims that he sent a text to Noirin O’Sullivan, some years ago, in which he told her that a journalist had interviewed a person making allegations against Maurice McCabe. Taylor claims O’Sullivan sent a one-word reply, ‘perfect’.
“We are told now that Noirin O’Sullivan’s phone from that time has gone missing and cannot be provided to the Charleton Tribunal. Perfect.
“Dave Taylor’s phone hasn’t been provided to Charleton either. It was taken from him, as part of an internal Garda investigation, led by Noirin O’Sullivan’s husband and has not been returned to him.
“So. Noirin O’Sullivan’s husband has Dave Taylor’s phone. And Noirin O’Sullivan can’t find her own phone. Perfect again.
“A senior Garda source told The Irish Times ‘a search of Garda HQ has taken place in recent weeks to try and find the missing phones’. It goes on to say, ‘but there’s little hope of the material being found at this stage’. I’d say there isn’t all right, Taoiseach.
“Was that phone officially reported missing? If so, when exactly? Was [former Garda Commissioner] Martin Callinan’s phone officially reported missing? When exactly?
“By the way, I’m given to understand that Noirin O’Sullivan used a second phone, a personal phone, known as the off-site phone for some Garda business. Has this phone been sought? Has she lost this phone too?”
In his reply, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said:
“You come in here with a report, which is a report from a journalist I understand, that a phone is missing from the, that was in the possession of the Garda Commissioner. I don’t have the, I don’t know whether that’s a true statement or whether it’s not. Whether it’s an allegation that stands up or not.”
“But I expect that Justice [Peter] Charleton will find out the truth of that.”
From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams
During Leaders’ Questions.
The leader of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams told the Dáil new documentation has been provided to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by the executive director of human resources and people development at An Garda Síochána John Barrett.
Readers may recall how Mr Barrett last week told PAC, in the presence of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, that he held a meeting with Ms O’Sullivan for “over two hours” in which he raised issues about the Garda College in Templemore, while Ms O’Sullivan, in contrast, said it was “brief” while she has “having tea”.
Mr Adams said the new documentation provided to PAC shows further contradictions.
During his exchange with Mr Kenny.
Gerry Adams: “Taoiseach, I understand that documentation has been given to the Public Accounts Committee by John Barrett, which completely contradicts and undermines the account given by the [Garda] Commissioner OSullivan last Thursday about her conversations with Mr Barrett over financial irregularities at Templemore. And this latest development today comes after contradictory statements from the Commissioner O’Sullivan and the executive director of human resources, the aforementioned Mr Barrett. So I want to ask you: why you would then end the never-ending crisis and scandal surrounding the senior management of An Garda Siochana.”
Adams: “Taoiseach, the Commissioner’s position is untenable but it’s not easy to understand why you will not remove her from office. There’s no rational explanation. The majority of parties here in Leinster House now want the Commissioner to go and you need to act in the best interests of An Garda Siochana, for the sake of the people of this state, the Commissioner needs to go and go now. So, will you finally accept this reality and relieve Noirin O’Sullivan from her duties as Commissioner, if she refuses to resign.”
Kenny: “The Public Accounts Committee and this house, as deputy Adams well knows, is removed from influence of the Oireachtas. And I’m not aware of the papers you refer to being given to the Public Accounts Committee. They have certainly not come into my possession nor should they if they’re given to the chairman or a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I have confidence in the Garda Commissioner to do her job.”
“This morning, the Cabinet approved the nomination of Kathleen O’Toole, who is the chief of police in Seattle, to chair the review body dealing with the, with An Garda Síochána. She is an outstanding person of very great experience, both in the legal terms, in policing terms, with a deep understanding of the position that applies here in Ireland. I would expect that nomination to be ratified by Cabinet next week.”
“In addition, the Cabinet also approved this morning the terms of reference for Project Eagle which was a matter that was raised by people here on a number of occasions and, following receipt of further observations, from the Fianna Fail party, and Deputy Wallace, I took those account and had approval given for the terms of reference for that. These are actions that are being taken by Government in respect of matters of public concern.”
During Leaders’ Questions which were being received by Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised the case of Shane O’Farrell who was killed in a hit-and-run in Carrickmacross in Co. Monaghan by Zigimantus Gridziuska, from Lithuania, on August 2, 2011.
Mr Martin said:
“It’s clear the family were misled by the gardaí about facts of their son’s death. The courts were misled by both gardaí and others. The courts were not informed of relevant information when judges asked questions, pertaining to the accused. Fundamentally, minister, I put it to you that offences concerning violent deaths should not go unpunished.”
“I think we owe it, collectively, and I know others in the house have met with Lucia O’Farrell and the O’Farrell family. We owe it to make sure that justice is done. And the most effective way, at this stage, in our view, is that an inquiry should be established. To inquire into all aspects of this case. So that we can learn lessons and justice can be delivered for the O’Farrell family. And that the dysfunctionality within our justice system, that are highlighted by the case, can be put to right. I would ask you, minister, if the Government has given consideration to this. I know the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach has indeed met with the O’Farrell family. But I think it’s time for action now.”
During his response, Mr Bruton said:
“The Government, to my knowledge, it has not come to Cabinet, to consider this specific circumstances of this case. As I understand it, under legislation, it would be in the first instance for the Minister for Justice to propose issues in relation to the suggestion you’re making of a public inquiry. I cannot, if you like, shed light on whether there is a case or not for such a public inquiry because I don’t have access to sufficient facts and detail. It is, perhaps, an issue that can be raised with the Minister for Justice but I will certainly convey the concern of the deputy to the minister.“
Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny fielded questions from Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin about the reported 26.3% growth in the economy.
From the debate…
Taoiseach Enda Kenny: “First, the figures produced yesterday are unprecedented. They do not reflect accurately what is happening in the economy. Obviously, the figure of 26% is unprecedented and significantly stronger than the previous estimate of 7.8%, but it is important to note that is due to exceptional factors. It highlights the complexity and difficulty in interpreting the macroeconomic data in Ireland.The figures reflect a number of factors, including the impact of relocation of entire plcs to Ireland. This would have significantly boosted investment and net exports. Net exports contributed 18% to the 2015 growth figure. Contract manufacturing played a role in the figures. This occurs where an Irish-based company with another manufacturing unit abroad manufactures and sells products to other countries from that unit but is still based in Ireland.”
“While the headline figures can be exaggerated in an Irish context and will obviously be the subject of intense scrutiny, other indicators such as the level of consumer spending, the rise in the level of employment and the continuous drop in unemployment trends, as well as taxation receipts, confirm that there is a strong recovery rooted in the domestic economy in Ireland.”
“That domestic demand – spending by Irish businesses and Irish people – is also growing strongly. It is an opportunity arising from the many sacrifices made during the years.”
“The figures predate the decision in Britain in the referendum. Obviously, there has been a sharp depreciation of sterling since that decision and a deterioration in the outlook for the UK economy. While it is an unprecedented figure, the fact is, based on growth projections in real terms, the growth levels seen in 2015 were both a one-off and exceptional in nature. We cannot make policy on that basis, but the CSO takes into account in compiling its figures issues such as aircraft leasing and manufacturing here by companies that have units abroad.”
“As noted in the summer economic statement which was debated in the Dáil some time ago, the Department of Finance will prepare a full macroeconomic projection in advance of the budget in October. It will include updated estimates of economic growth, the public finances and whatever fiscal space is available to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, taking account of developments up to that time, including the latest CSO numbers and the decision in the United Kingdom.”
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl: “The Taoiseach’s time is up.”
Micheál Martin: “The Taoiseach did not answer the question, which was whether he would commission the CSO to design a proper, accurate way of calculating the real size of the economy.”
“Professor John FitzGerald, formally of the ESRI, has attempted to do this as an individual. It is shocking that the Department of Finance and the Taoiseach’s Department did not work years ago to create a proper model to calculate the size of the economy.”
“The figures are not unprecedented. They are false in terms of what is happening on the ground and the reality in the economy. The CSO says it is including – not taking account of – the impact of aircraft leasing, corporate inversions and contract manufacturing, but none of this impacts on real jobs and investment in the economy, as the thousands of people who are struggling realise. It is not good enough that no one in official Ireland has attempted to address this by coming up with an accurate home-grown model that takes all of this into account, strips it out and gives us a proper figure.”
Ó Fearghaíl: “Thank you, Deputy Martin.”
Martin: “It is essential that this be done, in terms of how we plan our budgets and economy but also in terms of our international reputation. Unfortunately, the international world looks at this with some degree of ridicule and disbelief. There was a time when we would haughtily go around the place questioning the Chinese or the Russians for their economic statistics. Can we really go abroad and hold our heads up high…”
Ó Fearghaíl: “You have made your point, thank you.”
Martin: “…about Irish official statistics? No one in their right mind believes Irish official statistics. This cuts to the heart of our credibility in terms of presenting economic data. This is a serious issue which needs urgent addressing by the Taoiseach’s Department, the CSO and other related State entities.”
Kenny: “It is true to say the CSO is quite independent in how it does its analysis, but it does take these factors into account. Changes have occurred, such as the transition of entire public limited companies to Ireland and the transfer of a significant amount of intellectual property, contract manufacturing and the scale of aircraft leasing.”
“The Deputy is right in terms of these figures boosting GDP. There is no proportionate increase in employment. These are figures which are compiled accurately by the CSO and they take into account those changes that have taken place in the international economy.”
“The Deputy is aware of the changes made by the Government in terms of complying with base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, and the OECD in terms of having got rid of the double Irish concept. The issues of aircraft leasing, contract manufacturing, intellectual property moving onshore here and the transition of entire public limited companies has boosted these figures.”
Ó Fearghaíl: “Thank you, Taoiseach.”
Kenny: “The Department of Finance will set out its projections later in the year, but it will also base its policy on a more normal growth rate, such as has been predicted by the Department, of in the region of 3.5% to 4%. I agree that an extraordinary elevation of 26% based on some of these factors and others, such as the depreciation of sterling, do not impact in reality on big numbers in terms of employment…”
Ó Fearghaíl: “Thank you, Taoiseach. The time is up.”
Kenny: “…but it is important that on the underlying issues the growth in jobs and consumer spend and the drop in unemployment is where the real value of the economy is and the projections will be based on 3.5% to 4%.”