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?
Fianna Fáil TD Marc Mac Sharry brought the committee’s attention to correspondence that was only made available to it this morning.
The correspondence is an email thread between Chief Financial Officer at An Garda Siochana Michael Culhane – who was head of finance in 2010 – and Eugene Banks, of the Garda division in from the Department of Justice.
It also includes emails from George Reddan, of PwC, to Mr Culhane.
After Mr Mac Sharry brought attention to these emails, An Garda Siochana’s Chief Administration Officer Joe Nugent told the PAC that he had received the material yesterday afternoon, even though it was datestamped as having been opened on June 14.
He said, because of this, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan hadn’t had a chance to read the correspondence in advance the meeting.
First of all, Mr Mac Sharry explained that it was John Barrett, head of HR, who sent the emails to Mr Nugent…
Marc Mac Sharry: “So basically, this document, as I said, I just got it, I didn’t see sight of it, I got wind that there may be a document in relation to charitable status. I asked for it. And this was produced. OK.
“Now for the record, the cover note, which I want to read into the record, it’s to the Chief Administration Officer [Joe Nugent], it’s from John Barrett, it’s dated the 13th of June 2017. And notwithstanding the fact that we appreciate that the CAO has said that he didn’t see it until yesterday, the 19th. It is the date stamp from his office, from the 14th of June.
“So somebody read it, in your [CAO Joe Nugent] office to the extent that they stamped it and if you were away or otherwise engaged, I’m sure there’s somebody with delegated responsibility in your office, that if something is important to pass on up the line, the Commissioner can clarify that.
“Anyway, I want to read this:
‘I refer to a hand-delivered document, an Oireachtas envelope, which arrived at the gate this morning. I’ve no idea of its provenance. It was collected by Mr Paul Flood from my office and this is a copy of the content which you may wish to note.
I’d respectfully suggest that you draw the attention of all the various correspondence to this document and provide them with copies, as a matter of courtesy.
Further, it seems to me, that the Public Accounts Committee may have an interest in the content and I will again respectfully suggest that this be brought to the attention of the PAC immediately.’
“So, let the record show, it wasn’t brought to our attention, we brought it to our own attention. Anyway, moving on, there’s one specific small email which does follow on from correspondence between PwC and Mr Culhane, in 2010, in relation to matters of taxation and all of the issues before us here today. And then, he, in turn, was obviously, corresponding or in contact with Eugene Banks of the Garda division of the Department of Justice.
“And one email I find extremely troubling. It’s one of the 5th of July 2010 at 17.26pm which seems to be a response to Eugene Banks of the Garda division, who is inquiring had there been any developments on the matter raised below. In particular, the relationship between the [Garda] College and the companies and the legal entity of the college itself.
Clockwise from bottom left: Chief Financial Officer Michael Culhane; Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin; Chief Superintendent Anne Marie McMahon; Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan; form Chief Administration Officer Cyril Dunne; Executive Director of Human Resources and People Development John Barrett and Head of Internal Audit Niall Kelly
This morning, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan returns to the the Public Accounts Committee to field more questions about the Garda College.
You may recall reports of complex financial irregularities amid Byzantine-like accounting practices at the college in Templemore, Co Tipperary.
These irregularities concern matters of accounting and commercial practice, land ownership, the existence of unapproved bank and investment accounts, potential taxation and pension liability.
Plus questionable employment arrangements contrary to regulation, the collection of rental income from lands owned by the OPW, revenue generated in the Garda College ending up in more than 40 bank accounts and surplus funds – some of which should have been returned to the State – being used to purchase assets or put into private bank or credit union accounts or private Garda sporting facilities instead.
At its peak, a total sum of €2.3million in cash was held in various accounts, while questions remain over whether the Garda College is tax compliant.
Concerns about these financial irregularities were first reported by John Mooney, of The Sunday Times, in January of this year.
The Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan went on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke, the following day, to say these matters were “legacy issues”.
Since then, an interim audit report about these irregularities was completed by the head of internal audit at An Garda Siochana Niall Kelly.
This audit report was given to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in March. Mr Kelly was asked to examine the Garda College after concerns were raised by John Barrett, head of HR, in the summer of 2015.
The Garda College has since been the subject of three PAC meetings – on May 4, May 31 and June 14.
Contrary to the matters being solely “legacy issues”, as Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, who became Garda Commissioner in 2014, maintained, Mr Kelly told one of these PAC meetings:
“I was asking questions in 2008 and 2009 but I was not getting answers. In March 2011, in relation to the 2010 accounts, I got assurances that issues were being addressed. What happened in 2011 was that effectively the college closed and there was very little activity. Between 2011 and 2014, if I had gone to audit I probably would not have found anything because effectively we were doing nothing. In 2014-2015 these issues started arising again. In 2016, we were brought in to do the audit.”
Head of Human Resources at An Garda Siochana John Barrett at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee yesterday
Several senior members of the civilian staff at An Garda Siochana attended the Public Accounts Committee to discuss the internal audit report into the Garda College, compiled by head of internal audit Niall Kelly and given to the PAC earlier this year.
Mr Kelly’s report was carried out for head of human resources John Barrett, who started his job in October 2014, becoming aware of financial irregularities at the college in June 2015.
Mr Kelly’s report found concerns similar to ones previously highlighted in a separate report by Barry McGee in 2008.
Mr Kelly’s report audited expenditure worth €112million from January 1, 2009 to March 31, 2016 and identified 48 separate bank accounts relating to the college.
It found, among other matters, that money was transferred between accounts – for example, €400,000 was transferred from its bar account to its restaurant account, while €100,000 was transferred from its Sportsfield Co Limited to the Garda Boat Club, a private sports club.
It also found 37% of its laundry and services account had nothing to do with laundry or services and, instead, was spent on meals/entertainment, contributions to charity, contributions to parish clergy, and “golf society”.
In addition, rent worth €124,903 was collected for the use of Dromard Farm even though the OPW legally owned the land and, therefore, was entitled to the money.
Readers will recall how Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan told PAC on May 4 that she first learned of the concerns on July 27, 2015 and that, the following day (July 28, 2015) she set up a steering committee to look into the matters.
Further to this…
Those attending PAC yesterday included Mr Kelly; Mr Barrett; Michael Culhane – Executive Director, Finance and Services; Ken Ruane – Head of Legal Services; Joseph Nugent – Chief Administrative Officer; Michael Howard – former Head of the Garda Audit Committee.
Some notes from the meeting:
– PAC heard that, on June 30, 2015, Garda’s head of legal affairs Ken Ruane met Mr Barrett and was told about the issues relating to the college. Mr Ruane was also told that the matters had been reported to the Garda’s chief administration officer Cyril Dunne who passed them on to Ms O’Sullivan. Mr Ruane told PAC he had notes to prove his concerns were passed to Ms O’Sullivan.
– PAC heard that the steering group to look into the Garda College issues was in operation since July 2, 2015.
– None of the civilian staff at PAC could say definitively if An Garda Siochana is tax compliant.
– Head of Legal Affairs in An Garda Síochána Ken Ruane told the PAC he was asked to change minutes he took of a meeting of the steering group, on August 6, 2015, by the CAO Cryil Dunne.
– In a letter from Michael Culhane to Noirin O’Sullivan in October 2015, Mr Culhane asked: “Is JB (John Barrett) unwittingly guilty of a criminal offence under the Official Secrets Act?” Mr Barrett told PAC he sought, directly and through his solicitor, to get this letter six times but was denied. He eventually got the letter but 85% of it was redacted. At PAC, Mr Culhane admitted this claim was unwise.
– In a letter Michael Culhane sent to Niall Kelly in February of this year, he accused Mr Kelly of being unprofessional, misleading and mischievous. At PAC, Mr Culhane withdrew the claim.
– The PAC heard senior gardaí have made out cheques, of up to thousands of euro, to themselves.
– Mr Kelly said they are now being examined to see if these cheques have been vouched for – with one audit going back to 1998.
– Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy asked Mr Kelly if there was any indication of any Templemore monies being sent to a bank account in Dublin under the control of a former senior Garda officer. Mr Kelly said he’d rather not answer that question because it’s the subject of audit.
– In a June 25 email sent by Barry McGee, the author of a report in 2008 which identified many of the issues/concerns highlighted in Niall Kelly’s 2017 report, to John Barrett, Mr McGee wrote:
“I think the problem in approaching the solving of this, is that because of the potential negative reputational risk for the organisation – in that once this starts to be sorted it hits the public media, either though audit etc, it could have very big ramifications – like the accounting officer [Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan] appearing before the PAC, etc – so it is how to solve this quiety without risking exposure – again this is just my opinion – so this report was quiet [sic] sensitive – Michael [Culhane] has said it you wish to meet to discuss this etc might be useful – It is not necessarily a nice report, I would like to think that the report is more based on systems and how systems were set up and evolved possibly incorrectly particularly with view to the way government accounting and government accounting regulations apply currently.”
“For example, today or at the moment, the Garda Siochana organisation cannot for example open a bank account without seeking sanction from the DPERs, whereby if you have to write to them setting the purpose of the bank account and they give sanction for the same to open it – and of course setting up companies or entities would need ministerial sanction I would imagine as it is a big deal in principle to set up a sub company from a department – for example,
in terms of the purchase of land, this is a problem for the college because the Garda Commissioner is not meant to hold any lands under legislation as far as I am aware and such lands will have to be transferred by some mechanism to the OPW.
– Mr Kelly told PAC that, following a meeting on October 1, 2015, in which Noirin O’Sullivan perused the 2008 McGee Report, she felt the 2008 report was “overly critical”. Mr Kelly also said there was a reticence among Commissioner and others to accept the conclusions of the 2008 report.
Meanwhile, just before the meeting finished up last night, Mr Barrett said the following:
“Chairman, I come before you knowing the democratic power of this institution you represent the people of Ireland, you are the elected representatives. And I come here hoping to leave, having answered your questions fully and thoroughly.
I see this as a very significant matter for an organisation who must enjoy the trust of the people of Ireland, who must enjoy that trust because the powers that can be exercised – caution, arrest, detention – are of such constitutional significance that we need to have our house, not just in order, but in absolute order.
“So I sit here with a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t. But with no sense of personal regret that I raised this issue and that I continue to believe that I did the right thing in persisting.
“And there’s credit due to people on my right and on my left for their assistance in this regard. But I think it is clear, I feel quite frankly, that I didn’t have universal support and that reality is a reality that I want you to consider.
“I look, as I said to Mr [David] Cullinane, I look for no bouquets in this, I feel that I am doing my job but I want you to understand it’s not easy. And the assistance that you can give in ensuring that the standards that are required of us are demanded by you consistently and that we deliver – that will embolden others to do the right thing and to step forward in difficult situations. That is a key cultural change that you can help make.”
The PAC meeting can be watched back in full by downloading the video files from here [Committee Room 3].
From top: Head of Internal Audit at An Garda Siochana Niall Kelly; Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy
In the last 30 minutes.
During the closing stages of today’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy had the following exchange with head of internal audit Niall Kelly in relation to the Garda College, Templemore, Co. Tipperary.
Catherine Murphy: “Obviously, you’re going to come back to us, Mr Kelly, in relation, to the number of bank accounts, and you’re looking at that at the moment and you probably were looking, and I’m not sure whether it’s yourself, or Mr [Chief Administration Officer Joseph] Nugent, who would have been, when the bank accounts were being closed, if anything was discovered.
“Can I just ask you, very specifically, if there’s any indication of any Templemore monies being sent to a bank account in Dublin under the control of a former senior Garda officer and whether or not you’re carrying out a specific investigation in relation to that or anything of that nature?”
Niall Kelly: “Chair, I’d rather not answer that question because it’s the subject of audit…”
Talk over each other
Murphy: “But there is an audit?”
Kelly: “There is an audit.”
Murphy: “Of that nature?”
Kelly: “There are some issues that you touched on that could be issues within our audit.”
An Garda Siochana’s executive director in finance and services Michael Culhane, head of internal audit Niall Kelly, head of human resources John Barrett at PAC this morning
You may recall head of human resources at An Garda Siochana John Barrett.
He was the civilian member of the guards who told Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan about the financial irregularities at the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary on July 27, 2015.
This is the date Ms O’Sullivan told the PAC, on May 4, that she first heard of the irregularities.
Mr Barrett claims they, and others, discussed the matters for more than two hours. Ms O’Sullivan said they were discussed over a “very brief” meeting while having tea.
You may also recall how, in his notes, of the July 2015 meeting, Mr Barrett maintains he was “counselled to be very careful” when he “referred to the loss of all books of account prior to a date which coincided with the retirement of a restaurant manager”.
In September 2015, Mr Barrett urged Ms O’Sullivan to inform the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) of his concerns about Templemore but Ms Fitzgerald wasn’t informed until some weeks later.
Further to this…
Several civilian members of An Garda Siochana are before the Public Accounts Committee today.
Niall Kelly – Head of Internal Audit (author of the audit report); John Barrett – Executive Director, Human Resources and People Development; Michael Culhane – Executive Director, Finance and Services; Ken Ruane – Head of Legal Services; Joseph Nugent – Chief Administrative Officer; Michael Howard – former Head of the Garda Audit Committee.
Mr Kelly, who was the author of Garda College interim audit report on serious financial irregularities at the Garda College, was the only person to give an opening statement to the Public Accounts Committee.
In it, he said:
“In regards to interference and non co-operation and withholding of information from internal audit, there are three periods of time that should be considered. Firstly, the period from 2008 to 2011. Secondly, the period from July 2015 to March 2016 and thirdly, the period from September 2016 to March 2017.”
Further to this…
Readers should note documentation sent to the Public Accounts Committee, ahead of today’s meeting, includes a letter which was sent from the executive director of finance Michael Culhane to Noirin O’Sullivan on October 25, 2015, urging her to investigate Mr Barrett.
In relation to this letter…
Catherine Connolly: “As a lay person looking at it, and we have all these reports and they haven’t been acted on, isn’t that right? 2006, I don’t know what happened the 2006 report. But the 2008 [McGee] report made very strong recommendations. Your colleague Mr Kelly says some were acted on, some were reversed and some weren’t acted on at all. Can you stand over that?”
Michael Culhane: “Well, I can’t stand over that because I mean, I can only…”
Connolly: “You can or you can’t?”
Culhane: “I can-well in terms of, I can only give advice.”
Connolly: “No, can you stand over that, sorry? Do you accept that the 2008 [report] wasn’t implemented.”
Culhane: “I do yes.”
Connolly: “Ok, and that parts of it that were implemented were reversed, that’s what Mr Kelly says clearly in…”
Culhane: “I accept his evaluation.”
Connolly: “You accept that, ok. Have you confidence in your colleague Mr [John] Barrett?”
Culhane: “I accept his professionalism, yes.”
Connolly: “You do. But, at the same time, you’d like him to be examined under the Official Secrecy Act?”
Culhane: “Well, I had concerns about, I had concerns about, in terms of what he actually, the manner in which he was treating confidential documents.”
Connolly: “And do you still have concerns?”
Culhane: “Well, given the passage of time, and on reflection, no I don’t.”
Connolly: “Ok, and do you regret doing that?”
Culhane: “I suppose with the benefit of hindsight, it probably wasn’t wise to make that statement.”
A few seconds later
John Barrett: “I have asked three times myself personally, four times through my solicitor to have the document that has just been referred to, that was released to your committee [PAC] yesterday, given to me. 85% of the document, that eventually was released under Freedom of Information – consider how this might play – was redacted in protection of the very issues that the Finance Director has now discussed. That reflects the situation in its reality.
“And his correspondence was made available to your committee, I think it’s important that you have it. I discovered the existence of that letter almost a year to the day after it had been written. I think it is appalling that such information and the interesting inversion of trust that was presented to you, appalls me.
We requested legitimately a letter written about me, that I had no knowledge of, that alleges a potential criminal offence, breaks of natural justice, constitutional procedure, none of that existed. And I discover it, yesterday, as being included in the PAC to this committee.”
Sean Fleming (chairman): “Which letter are we referring to?”
Barrett: “The letter of the 25th of October 2015…”
Alan Kelly: “Just to clarfiy, you were not aware that this was, it wasn’t provided to you under the requests that you made, but yet it was provided to this committee.”
Barrett: “Yes, sir… I wrote directly, myself, when I became aware this letter existed, I asked for a copy…I wrote to the Commissioner three times to the best of my knowledge.”
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane at PAC this morning
David Cullinane: “There’s been two sets of correspondence. One in relation to Mr Barrett where you attempt to undermine his work and another set of correspondence in relation to Mr Kelly, where you attempt to undermined his work and you say in writing that the report was ‘unprofessional, misleading and mischievous’. So you have a duty and responsibility to inform this committee today, how you believed that his report was unprofessional, misleading and mischievous. You have a duty and you haven’t done that. So please explain to me how the report was unprofessional, misleading and mischievous.”
Culhane: “There’s a lot of working parts in the report and, indeed, in the operation of An Garda Siochana. So, I suppose, by summary of views that I had in terms of the contents of the report, and I again, you’ve said it several times before, but I mean there was a history there, which, in relation to the college which wasn’t adequately explained.”
Cullinane: “Do you believe, one final question: And I want to put this to Mr Kelly and Mr Barrett, do you believe, Mr Kelly, when that letter was written and when Mr Culhane said your report was unprofessional, misleading and mischievous and he went further and asked you to amend your report, did you see that as a direct interference in your report and an attempt to get you to either water down or lessen the content of your report?”
Niall Kelly: “Yes.”
Cullinane: “Yes. And did you have a similar experience, Mr Barrett?”
Barrett: “With respect to the letter of October 15, I never saw the letter until yesterday.”
Cullinane: “But now that you’ve seen it, would you see that as an attempt to undermine…”
Barrett: “Absolutely, very deliberate collaring of what I felt was my obligation to deal and illuminate these matters which have long since been left to continue.”
Cullinane: “And do you now see that as serious, Mr Culhane, that we have the head of internal audit and we have the head of human resources, both seeing it in the same way that I can, that you tried to undermine their work. We talked earlier about the circling of the wagons, about, you said it yourself, things should be kept inhouse, do you not see that you are part of the problem? And that you, by what you’ve put in writing and we’ve heard from two senior people, in civilian roles in An Garda Siochana, they felt you were trying to interfere with their work.”
Sean Fleming (chair): “Just answer that last question.”
Culhane: “I don’t see, I don’t see myself as being part of the problem. I think I see myself as being part of the solution because of the actions that I have taken on the issues identified in the 2008 report. I had no desire to undermine the professionalism of these two gentlemen. Niall Kelly is an independent auditor and he produces his reports without any, in terms of, without any need for any reference to me. So, I don’t see that I’d be interfering with his independence.”
Cullinane: “You tried to get him to alter his report. You threatened him with legal action. You said if he did not amend his reports, you would seek legal advice and you would take legal action and you’re sitting there telling me that you did not try to interfere with the work of internal audit. It’s incredible for you to say that. How could you threaten legal action against the head of internal audit, almost unprecedented, and then say ‘that wasn’t an attempt by me to interfere with the work’. You cannot say that Mr Culhane.”
Fleming: “Mr Culhane, today, in front of the PAC, do you still stand over that sentence: “in omitting these acts, the report is unprofessional, misleading and mischievous” today, the 31st of May 2017, would you agree with that today?”
Culhane: “On reflection, chairman, I probably, it was an unwise use of those words.”
Fleming: “Would you like to withdraw that statement?”
Culhane: “I think it would be, yes…”
Fleming: “Because before the committee, that statement is in writing before this committee.”
Culhane: “Yes I would like to withdraw it yes..”
Fleming: “You’ll withdraw that statement then?”
Fleming: “That’s helpful.”
Labour TD Alan Kelly at PAC earlier today
Barrett: “…in the period that had elapsed from July  when I originally prepared a report to go to Mr [Michael] Howard, through Mr [Cyril] Dunne, and we’re reaching now into the third week of September and I have concerns that the thing is not being treated in the multi-million off-balance sheet as Michael Culhane described it activity that is continuing. It is an active, ongoing enterprise within an organisation that I have line responsibility for. And so, in setting it out very clearly, I do go through the very specific issues that Fennelly raises in relation to what a Section 41[which provides that anything of significant relevance should be brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice] is intended to do and how it is that this applies absolutely to the matters of gravity that I dealt with in my report of the 6th of July. And I was very deliberately putting it on the record.”
Alan Kelly: “How would you see Mr [Cyril] Dunn reacted?”
Barrett: “I think that question could be better put to Mr Dunne but…”
Kelly: “Of course, but I want your opinion.”
Barrett: “My opinion is that we were at that point into a situation where the past history that I’d become aware of was repeating itself, as in the 2008 report, nothing was done, it continued. I felt there was a danger, quite frankly that my report of July 2015 was going to go the way of its predecessors.”
Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy
Catherine Murphy: “Another thing that strikes me, I’d like to clear a few of these things first, one thing that strikes me is: the idea that you were keeping contemporaneous notes, that you were referencing some of your meetings with Mr [head of legal affairs Ken] Ruane, the idea that the internal auditor [Niall Kelly] is sending himself registered, it is yourself Mr Kelly...?”
John Barrett: “Oh, I do that, I do that.”
Murphy: “I mean that strikes me as a self protection mechanism. Would that be correct?”
Barrett: “Let’s look at what we’ve recently read in our newspapers, concerning whether records were destroyed or whether telecommunications equipment survived. I was very conscious of the fact is that what I was dealing with here was well known, understood for a number of years and the curiosity in my mind was why was this not dealt with expeditiously?”
Barrett: “Relating to material sums of money, in the public vote, in the period 2004 – 2014, it’s €12.4million of taxpayers’ money…”
From top: Head of internal audit at An Garda Siochana Niall Kelly; head of human resources at An Garda Siochana John Barrett
At the Public Accounts Committee.
The Garda College interim audit report – which lays out serious financial irregularities at the college in Templemore, Co Tippeary – will be further discussed.
Those expected to attend include:
Niall Kelly – Head of Internal Audit (author of the audit report); John Barrett – Executive Director, Human Resources and People Development; Michael Culhane – Executive Director, Finance and Services; Ken Ruane – Head of Legal Services; Joseph Nugent – Chief Administrative Officer; Michael Howard – former Head of the Garda Audit Committee.
Readers will recall how on May 4, during a PAC meeting, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said she first learned of the issues at Templemore from head of human resources at An Garda Siochana John Barrett during a “very brief conversation” on July 27, 2015 while they were having tea.
Mr Barrett maintained it lasted for more than two hours.
Further to this, Mr Barrett later released a 122-page file to PAC, which contained a letter he had written to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of An Garda Siochana Cyril Dunne, on September 20, 2015, giving details of the meeting.
Those who were present at the meeting included Mr Barrett, Ms O’Sullivan, Mr Dunne, Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin and Assistant Commissioner John Twomey.
Readers will recall how Niall Kelly explained, in his interim report of February 2017, that he deleted a paragraph (above) from the final version of a report on the Garda College in 2011.
He claims he deleted the paragraph after he was assured that the issues were addressed by Executive Director, Finance and Services Michael Culhane.
At the PAC meeting of May 4, Mr Kelly said he felt he had been “duped” and that he was caught in the “circling of wagons”.
During the PAC meeting, Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane had the following exchange with Mr Kelly and Mr Culhane.
David Cullinane: “Page 14 of the report refers to the Garda Commissioner and 2 March 2011 and contains a paragraph which says “no assurances were given”. That paragraph was removed and deleted and Mr. Kelly said this was because he was given assurances.”
Niall Kelly: “I was provided with a summarised report from Mr Culhane and assurances that the issues were being dealt with.”
Cullinane: “Did Mr. Culhane give the assurances to Mr. Kelly?”
Michael Culhane: “I did not give them directly to Mr Kelly. It went to the CAO [Cyril Dunne] showing the progress that had been made on some of the issues.”
Cullinane: “However, the assurances were given by Mr. Culhane. The CAO was the conduit but the assurances were given by Mr. Culhane.”
Culhane: “I did not give assurances. I gave an update on the report.”
Cullinane: “However, Mr Kelly saw this as assurances because he said he deleted the paragraph because of assurances that were given.”
Kelly: “Yes. I had conversations with the audit committee.”
Cullinane: “Who gave Mr. Kelly the assurances he talked about?”
Kelly:“I got the report. I spoke to the CAO at the time. I spoke to the chairman of the audit committee at the time. It had gone to the Commissioner. The note had come back from the Commissioner, in the margins of the letter back from the Commissioner, that this report should be provided to me. I had highlighted my issues to the highest level in the organisation. Ultimately, my role is an advisory role.”
Cullinane: “Everyone is passing the buck.”
Kelly: “I am not passing the…”
Cullinane: “I do not say Mr. Kelly is here. He deleted a vital paragraph based on assurances that action was being taken. Who gave him those assurances?”
Kelly: “The CAO primarily.”
Cullinane: “Who did he get them from?”
Kelly: “From Mr Culhane.”
Cullinane: “That is what I am trying to establish exactly. Mr Kelly’s view now is that those assurances were not worth the paper they were written on. Would that be a fair...”
Kelly: “That would be true. I would also say that it was a mistake on my part to delete that paragraph.”
Cullinane: “Mr Kelly is brave enough to accept that he made a mistake.”
Cullinane: “I commend him on that. Does he feel he was duped?”
Kelly: “I do.”
Cullinane: “Does he regret that he was duped in that way?”
Cullinane: “Who does he believe duped him? Perhaps he should name offices rather than individuals.”
Kelly: “I think that is an unfair question to ask. It could be a range of people.”
Vice Chairman Alan Kelly: “In the interest of fairness, does Mr Kelly feel it was multiple people or one person?”
Kelly: “Reference was made to culture. There was a different culture at that stage. There was a culture of circling the wagons and I got caught trying to bang into the wagons.”
Cullinane: “Does Mr. Kelly agree that the culture of An Garda Síochána up to 2015 was to circle the wagons rather than to accept there was wrongdoing and correct it? Would that be his view as head of internal audit?”
Kelly: Speaking now, having gone through the past five years and writing this report, that is the only conclusion I can come to.”
Tomorrow’s PAC meeting, in committee room 3, will take place over two sessions, at 9am and 5pm.
The Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy spoke about the procurement and management of contracts for direct provision centres.
In his opening statement, he explained that €57million was spent on accommodation for asylum seekers in 2015. He then went on to criticise how direct provision management contracts were procured for the 28 commercially run centres across Ireland.
He also stated: “Contracts did not set performance measures and there was limited provision for penalties for under-performance by suppliers.”
The General Secretary of the Department of Justice Noel Waters was also present at PAC and, in his opening statement, said if direct provision had not been established in 2000, there “simply would not have been even the most basic shelter available” for people seeking asylum in Ireland.
He also said “there are no cheaper alternatives to direct provision”.
From Mr McCarthy’s opening statement:
“At December 2015, there was a total of 35 direct provision centres in operation — seven State-owned centres, and 28 centres provided by 22 commercial suppliers. Almost 4,700 individuals were being accommodated in the centres at the year end. The Department also operates two emergency reception and orientation centres to cater for persons who already have refugee status.
“The total cost to the Department in 2015 of providing accommodation and related services to asylum seekers and refugees was €57 million. The level of accommodation required is demand-led and difficult to predict. It is influenced by the number of asylum seekers, their length of stay in direct provision and, because there is no obligation to avail of direct provision, the number who opt to do so.
“The report notes that in mid-2016, the average length of stay was 38 months with 450 residents, or 10% of the total, living in direct provision for more than seven years. 23% of residents or 950 people, continued to reside in direct provision even though their cases had been finalised. This included 667 people or 16% who had been granted a status permitting them to remain in Ireland; and 283 or 7% who were subject to deportation orders.
“Two commercial companies were contracted to provide services such as catering, cleaning and maintenance at the seven State-owned centres. We found that competitive processes had been used to procure those services.
“In contrast, the Department had not used competitive processes as set out in public procurement procedures to procure the 28 commercially-owned and run centres. Instead, it seeks ‘expressions of interest’, evaluates the responses and then agrees contract terms with selected providers.
“The Department’s view is that this equates to the ‘negotiated procedure’ provided for in EU procurement rules. However, use of that procedure is only permitted in certain limited circumstances that we could not see existed in relation to direct provision. The Department stated that it discussed the matter with the Office of Government Procurement but hadn’t identified a procurement method to replace the current procedure.
“The examination also found that effective management of contracts was made more difficult because not all contract deliverables had been expressed in a way that could be quantified or measured.This increased the risk that standards of accommodation and services would not meet asylum seekers’ needs or would be inconsistent between centres.
“In addition, contracts did not set performance measures and there was limited provision for penalties for under-performance by suppliers. The Department agreed to the report’s recommendation to review the standard contract, and the Accounting Officer will be able to update the Committee in that regard. Service delivery in the centres is monitored by physical inspections of premises, information clinics for residents of centres and review of complaints by residents.
“However, the findings from this monitoring are not collated and used to assess service delivery performance. The Department committed to introduce procedures to formally record such inspection findings and complaints, which should inform discussions with centre managers and owners. Even though there was a low level of complaints by residents, information from other sources suggests that there is a significant level of dissatisfaction among residents about the quality of the accommodation and/or services provided.
“A revised complaints procedure introduced in 2015 provided for an appeal to an independent appeals officer where a person was not satisfied with how their complaint was dealt with. However, at the time of the examination, an independent appeals officer had yet to be appointed.
“The report recommended that the Department review the complaints process to identify reasons why residents may not be raising issues. The Department noted that the revised complaints procedure largely addressed this issue but undertook to examine ways to make the complaints process more open and transparent.
“Members may also be aware that, from early April this year, residents of direct provision can now bring a complaint to the Ombudsman, or to the Ombudsman for Children, if they are unhappy with how their original complaint was dealt with.”
From the Secretary General at the Department of Justice Noel Waters’ opening statement:
“From 2000 to date some 60,000 people have been accommodated in direct provision. Equally they have been provided with full access to the State’s medical and education services. The system is not perfect by any means and we are continually seeking to improve it.”
“The reality is that had the State not adopted the direct provision system, there simply would not have been even the most basic shelter available for this group of people who arrived and continue to arrive to our country.”
“At the start of this year there were 4,465 persons living in this accommodation. However, I am glad to say – and this is a significant change – that, of those, 72% have been there for three years or less since the date of their application. This compares to 36% who were there for 3 years or less when the data was compiled for the Working Group on Direct Provision and related matters in 2015.”
“To put it another way, there has been a complete reversal in the length of stay figures since the Working Group examined the matter.”
“Full board accommodation in keeping with the policy of nationwide dispersal is offered to
residents while their application for protection is being processed. It is important to note that not every person who seeks international protection in Ireland choses to accept the offer of full board accommodation and many choose to live with family or friends in communities across the country, as they are entitled to do.”
“But if this system was not in place, already vulnerable people who have sought protection in the State would join the lengthy waiting lists for social housing or enter the private rental market with little hope of finding affordable and secure accommodation.”
“That is the very situation that obtained which gave rise to the direct provision system being put in place in the first place. The offer of State-provided accommodation is a guarantee that every person who walks into the International Protection Office today will, tonight, have a bed, full board and access to medical care.”
“Moreover, their children will have access to our first and second level education system on
the same basis as anyone else.”
“Of course no system is without room for improvement and our challenge is to continually
enhance and develop the entire system so that the best possible set of facilities and services can be provided to those in our care.”
“…There are no cheaper alternatives to direct provision – we have explored the options in this respect; in fact they are much more expensive – and in any event given the critical shortage of housing in the State they are not realistic.”
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan with two mounted gardaí this morning outside Farmleigh House as she met school students who have made projects related to policing matters for the BT Young Scientist competition
You may recall how, in March, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) received a 44-page Garda Internal Audit Section (GIAS) report on serious financial irregularities at the Garda College in Templemore.
It also received a further 13-page interim audit report in relation to how the recommendations of the GIAS report were being implemented. This was carried out by the head of internal audit Niall Kelly.
Readers will recall how the GIAS report was the subject of an article by John Mooney, of The Sunday Times, on January 22.
Yesterday, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s appeared before the PAC to field questions on these reports.
Further to this…
Conor Lally in today’s Irish Times reports:
At the PAC meeting, which lasted more than five hours, the Commissioner said that in July 2015, she was having a cup of tea in a room in the Templemore college when [director of Garda human resources, John] Barrett informed her there were problems.
The meeting was brief and it was the first time she knew of any concerns in relation to spending at the Garda training college, she said.
However, Mr Barrett then contradicted her evidence. He said the meeting lasted for more than two hours.
He produced notes which he said he had taken at the time he met her and in which he had recorded the start and finish time of the meeting, as well as who was present, the issues discussed and the order in which people had walked into the room.
The head of An Garda Síochána’s internal audit system has told an Oireachtas committee he believes he was “duped” when he was told that action would be taken in relation to financial irregularities at the Garda College in Templemore.
Speaking before the Public Accounts Committee, Niall Kelly said there was a different culture in the force and he said he got caught in “circling the wagons” as late as 2015.
Mr Kelly said in his view certain laws were broken; procurement legislation was breached but these issues need to be further investigated.
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan held a press conference, in light of yesterday’s PAC meeting.
At the meeting, differences emerged between her and the director of human resources John Barrett’s account of when and how he raised concerns with her about the Garda College. She said he raised his concerns in a brief meeting over a cup of tea while he said it was a two-hour meeting, in which he took notes.
There were also questions over whether she told the Department of Justice, as she was required to do and had been given legal advice to do so, and over head of An Garda Síochána’s internal audit Niall Kelly claiming that he felt he was “duped” when he was told action would be taken when financial irregularities were found and that he faced the “circling of wagons” regarding the same.
On RTÉ’s News At One, Paul Reynolds reported on the press conference with a clip from Ms O’Sullivan saying:
“Well, you know, regardless of how long the meeting took place on the Garda College, I think the issues and facts speak for themselves. Mr Barrett, absolutely as line manager in the college, when he became aware of issues, which raised alarms for him, he raised them with his line manager. His line manager raised those issues with myself and the two deputy commissioners on the 27th of July. On the 28th of July, there was a group formalised which the CAO had been working on and that group met thereafter.”
“The important thing here is there is always full transparency around this issues. So on the 28th of July, the date after that meeting, this group was formalised and it was put into place. There were representatives from the Department of Justice on that group. The objective was to make sure that a) that the matters were dealt with, that there was full transparency in relation to the matters dealt with and that we understood fully what the complexities of the issues were. And, again, we have to remember, this is something that is going on for over 30 years.
“The funding model in the college dates back 30 years. There were several reports as we have heard into the way these matters needed to be regularised. The important thing is, in July 2015, when I, as accounting officer, found out about these issues, we immediately took steps to begin to address it. Those steps have led to revised administrative structures in the Garda College. Assurances from the line managers there, including the chief administrative officer and the head of internal audit, that what happened then cannot happen now.”
“And we will make sure that that continues to be robustly put in place and we make sure that the assurances that we all need, that the practices which we are totally unacceptable and cannot happen again.”
Further to yesterday’s post on the award of 75% of costs to losing party Angela Kerins in her case against the Public Accounts Committee, Broadsheet commenter Harry Molloy asked me to come back to readers when the full written judgment had been published. It is now available here.
The justification for the award of costs is set out by the Court at paragraphs 26-33 and appears to be as follows:-
(i) The PAC has an important function. Questions concerning the proper discharge of its function and the conduct of its members and the legal safeguards (if any) available to witness who appear before it are matters of public importance, involving questions of freedom of speech in Parliament, the separation of powers and the extent to which the court may intervene in the affairs of the Legislature.
(ii) Ms Kerins attended before the PAC in a voluntary capacity and much of what was put to her and said about her was damaging to her reputation personally and professionally. By bringing her action, Ms Kerins cast a light on the position of persons who volunteer to appear before the PAC. The institution of proceedings on her part was a proportionate reaction on her part to what had occurred and as such and the fact that she had a personal interest in the outcome of the application should not preclude her obtaining her costs.
The implication from the ruling was that Ms Kerins had not been well treated by the PAC and therefore it was justifiable for her to seek to clarify the law in relation to the position of witnesses appearing before it.
There is also an implication that she performed a public service in alerting potential witnesses to the risks of appearing before the PAC.
Although within the (very wide) parameters of the discretion laid down by previous case law, the ruling does break new ground in that it sanctions an award of costs to an unsuccessful litigant with a personal interest in proceedings on a matter of public interest where that litigant acted proportionately in bringing the proceedings.
It will be interesting to see what implications this ruling will have for Denis O’Brien’s costs in his recent unsuccessful application for parliamentary privilege. Will the richest man in Ireland be entitled to his costs on a losing case on the basis that he acted ‘proportionately’?
And, more pressingly, what does proportionately even mean?