From top: Garda College, Templemore; John Barrett, executive director of human resources and people development at An Garda Siochana; Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan
You may recall how the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary, was the subject of a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting last Thursday.
It followed PAC receiving, last March, a 44-page Garda Internal Audit Section (GIAS) report on serious financial irregularities at the Garda College and a further 13-page interim audit report in relation to how the recommendations of the GIAS report were being implemented.
The interim audit report on the recommendations was carried out by the head of internal audit Niall Kelly.
Among those attending last week’s PAC meeting included Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan; Kenneth Ruane, head of legal affairs; Joseph Nugent, chief administrative officer, Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, with responsibility for governance and strategy; Michael Culhane, executive director of finance and services; John Barrett, executive director of human resources and people development; and Mr Kelly.
Readers will recall how, during last week’s PAC meeting, Ms O’Sullivan maintained that this meeting was “a very brief conversation” while they were having tea, while Mr Barrett maintained that the meeting last for more than two hours.
Specifically, Ms O’Sullivan said:
“On the 27th of July, I believe there was a very brief conversation in a room after a meeting in Templemore, in which Mr Barrett raised certain issues specifically around some work he was doing when I was present along with the two deputy commissioners and the chief administrative officer. My recollection [as regards the length of the meeting] is very brief.”
In addition, Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, who was also at the meeting, told PAC that he couldn’t recall the length of the meeting.
The following is from a letter that Mr Barrett wrote to the Chief Administrative Officer of An Garda Siochana Cyril Dunne, on September 20, 2015.
In it, he recalls the meeting of July 27, 2015, with Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, Cyril Dunne, Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin and Assistant Commissioner John Twomey.
This letter was mentioned at last week’s PAC meeting.
Mr Barrett wrote:
The meeting at the Garda College of Monday July 27th was important in very many respects. You will recall that it took place after the briefing on ‘Transformation’ on the ground floor of the library building and I was invited to the follow on session by Acting Deputy SCM. He and I walked across to the Reception Room with him. He told me that the Commissioner wanted to have a meeting about the letter from Ken Ruane, which he had got on Friday evening, July 24th.
On arrival in the reception room, AC Towmey [sic] Acting Deputy Operations, and you were already present and we were joined by the Commissioner shortly thereafter. The meeting commenced at 17.20 approximately.
You (Chief Administrative Officer of An Garda Siochana) explained the background to the position you took at the meeting of July 2nd. You explained that there were governance issues in the college, areas of exposure for the organisation arising and while you had no sense there were people doing wrong, issues were opaque and needed to be clarified.
You told the meeting that you expressed concerned [sic] that funds generated in the college were not accounted for before the PAC, that there needed to be a full understanding around what we need to do about that. You explained to the meeting how you had set a deadline for year end.
You outlined the employment issues and expressed concern about who might be deemed to be the employer of the catering staff in reality. You raised the issues raising from the Sports Field Co Ltd, the Templemore Golf Club in the context of the Minister getting a letter from Michael Lowery [sic] TD. Your introduction was designed to present additional context to the letter from HOLA and to give an update to the Commissioner and Acting Deputy Commissioners.
The five of us at the meeting then considered in some detail the letter of Friday, July 24th sent by HOLA to the Acting Deputy SCM. Ken Ruane’s letter also enclosed a copy of the Barry McGee report from March 2008.
Early in the meeting, I made clear that I was the source of the briefing of HOLA upon which his opinion was based. I explained my very real concerns around the contents of the McGee report when I saw it first. I said that I became even more concerned as I raised questions after reading it.
I explained that I had met with Ken Ruane and sought his advice and input on a number of occasions and I had met with Michael Culhane and Barry McGee on June 30th.
I felt a real tension in the room around my acknowledging that I was the concerned party behind the letter of advice from HOLA. I made it clear that as soon as I had read the 2008 report, I had called Mr Barry McGee and asked him to furnish you (CAO) with a copy of the 2008 report directly to your office.
We spent a period of the meeting discussing the Sports Field Company and comfort was taken from the fact that the land owned was purchased before the 2005 Act became law. The appointment of Dublin based solicitors to act for the Sports Field Co was seen as proactive and notice to quit was noted as having been served.
The local political dimension was discussed and the letter to the Minister from Michael Lowery [sic] TD was seen as a complicating factor. The probability of recovering the ‘licence fee’ owed (six years of arrears currently of the order of €62,500) was seen as low but it would have to be pursued.
I then referred to the principal issues which I had set out in my report to you of July 6th (which I agreed to prepare as an action from the July 2nd meeting at the college which you chaired) and said that my report to you was prepared based on a reading of both the McGee report and the Nolan Report of 2010.
I said that I had met with both Michael Culhane and Barry McGee in my office on June 30th and we had a full and open conversation around the issues and what might be needed to resolve them.
I pointed out that the at the meeting of July 2nd, I was told that the issues in the McGee report were still pertinent, and that there was agreement that we needed to stop the continuation of the issues.
I also pointed out that Michael Culhane and I agreed that we needed to get accounting skills into the college quickly and that when I ask the CFO about asking IA to do the work, the CFO said that IA may not have the ability/and scope to do the work.
At the meeting in the college I made specific reference to my concerns around the scale of the commingled monies involved, (€12m over ten years), the practices in the restaurant, laundry and Shop (some of which had now ceased), the existence of a total sum of the order 2.3m euros in various investment accounts at peak, (but estimated to be some €600,000 as at the date of the meeting and no clarity around the historic disbursements of monies other than lands were purchased at some stage and €222,000 was expended on staff redundancies c2010).
You specifically drew attention to the fact no account was taken of these funds in yearend accounting and no refund was made at year end to the vote from surpluses generated. I pointed out that this had occurred since the office of Commission had become accounting officer following the 2005 Act and had occurred in years when AGS [An Garda Siochana] needed a substantial supplementary budget estimates from the exchequer.
I also referenced the information I learned from AC Nolan, who I found most helpful and forthcoming. He advised me that rental income from lands at the College farm owned by the OPW were, at least on one occasion, lodged to the restaurant account. We then we [sic] turned our attention to the employment issues arising and you and I both stated that the employees in the restaurant were likely to be found to be in the service of the college.
I received considerable push back when I referred to the loss of all books of account prior to a date which coincided with the retirement of a restaurant manager. I was counselled by all others in attendance that ‘I needed to be very careful’ in making such unproven assertions and connections.
I agreed and withdrew the remark noting the perspective of the meeting. The Commissioner perused the McGee document and concluded that ‘there was no evidence of misappropriation’. I countered and raised my concern that the structural arrangements complained of in 2008 are still currently operating, and that material funds from the vote were not accounted for in the accounting process and continue to be managed and controlled outside the view of the CFO and the responsibility of the accounting officer.
A discussion also took place around the need to ensure that we had appropriate context and, as you said, that ‘we must not get trapped into seeing this historic situation through 2015 governance lenses’ which may not be appropriate.
There was general agreement on this and I outlined to the meeting what I had learned from Superintendent Pat McCabe about the history of Messing Arrangements, the changes which came in vogue after the publication of a Government report into Garda Training, after which a subsidy was paid to the College for each student.
The meeting debated the degree to which the Department were aware that I referenced a point made to me by Michael Culhane at a meeting on July 2nd that the department were aware of the profit making potential of the college operations and were supportive if such profits were used for investment in college facilities.
I mentioned that he had quoted ‘Guy Harris’ on this by Michael Culhane has said to me that he had no supporting documentation to that effect. I offered my opinion that they were likely to be completely unaware of the scale of what has transpired over the years.
I did point out that there was some anecdotal evidence that the Department would have had to be aware of the restaurant situation to some degree because previous efforts to have the staff there made civil servants had been refused. That led to a debate around what may or may not be in the awareness of the Department and why the restaurant in the Depot was outsourced and the one in the College was not.
Attention was also given to the quality of the service delivered and the flexibility of the current restaurant personnel as a reason for not outsourcing the service.
I expressed by concern about no information having been shared with the office of the Internal Auditor in 2008, 2010 or now and I was told that Mr Niall Kelly was involved in the College. I was told that I was wrong about Mr Kelly being unaware of the issues.
AC [Assistant Commissioner] John Twomey and the Commissioner recalled that the IA team were in the College to do their work. I said that I had been told that they were not but that I would investigate further*.
There was a reticence among the Commissioner and the acting deputies to accept the conclusions of Barry McGee’s report and the additional materials added by the CAO and I. The meeting was of the view that there was no evidence of wrong doing on the part of individuals.
With specific reference to my remark concerning the disappearance of the books of account, quoted in the McGee report, I was warned again to ‘be very careful’. The action was given to the CAO to move forward with the work of the ‘working group’ and for that such work should progress before any thought of a S41 [a section of the Garda Siochana Act which puts certain obligations on the Garda Commissioner to report matters to the Minister for Justice and Equality] could be considered fully, thus rejecting the letter from HOLA.
Our meeting that night, which ran for well over two hours, left me somewhat perplexed. My note says that I left the meeting at 19.37 that evening and I left the four of you, (the Commissioner, AC Twomey, AC O’Cullaine and yourself) in the reception room in continuing discussion.
*The internal auditor Mr Niall Kelly confirmed to me that he had reviewed the A03 budget in the Garda College and that he never reviewed any other matter. He sent me a copy of his A03 report.
In the days following the meeting of the 27th, I sought the view of HOLA and summarised for him the view taken that the working group should progress matters before any action to inform the Department would be taken.
He specifically enquired about the role being given to the statutory office of the Internal Auditor and I said there was no direction to include him at this stage and some suggestion that he had sight of the matters in the past though (by that stage) I had confirmed the limit of his historical engagement and it did not include any of the matters at issue.
Mr Ruane said that he saw no reason to alter his views on the need for a S41 and referenced the experience he had gained by being part of the Fennelly process.
In that conversation also, Mr Ruane and I also discussed the comments made by Chief Superintendent Aidan Glackan at the podium of a senior management meeting in Westmanstown on Tuesday, July 28th.
As a the designated leader of the Transformation Program, he said, ‘I am 34 years in the guards, and I see no problem with the culture of the organisation’, comments which we both noted had been frequently raised by numerous members of the staff in the days afterwards.
Previously: Why The Long Face?