At the Public Accounts Committee.
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.
“So, Mr Culhane’s response was:
‘Eugene..there have been no further developments. To muddy things up I included charitable status for the college in the letter to the Revenue dated 28th of May but, as you can see it was not included in the response.’
“Now, we don’t have the response but the phrase ‘to muddy things up’ in the context of all the evidence we’ve received so far, the conflict evidence from certain parties, I think, for a Finance Director, to use a phrase ‘to muddy things up’ in the context of any correspondence with the Revenue Commissioners, and be informing Eugene Banks of the Department of Justice, seems to suggest an awful lot, Commissioner. And while I appreciate, and I take your word, that you have seen this document for the first time in recent minutes, what’s your response to such language?”
O’Sullivan: “Well I think the first thing I would have to do because, deputy, what I want to put on record, I’m not in the habit of quickly scanning documents and then arriving at a conclusion. So I would like to have time to examine the document. My initial response is the language is unusual but I don’t know, I’m not aware of the context of either these discussions or this email correspondence arose.”
Mac Sharry: “Well, my reading of it, having read it, and perhaps I had a little more time because it was handed out before the break is that there was an attempt on the basis of a suggestible law that existed in England by PwC that the Gardai may have some grounds to build a case – I see heads shaking in the background over there, I don’t know whether that’s relevant to what I’m saying or something else. But that’s, the letter, I’ll quote that, because it concerns me, so I’ll just mention the relevant part about charitable status. This is from George Reddan, of PwC writing to Michael Culhane, it’s a response to his letter to PwC on the 23rd of March which we don’t have a copy of. In terms, I’ll just read this quote:
‘As we discussed, there may be a possibility of arguing that all of the investment income – this is the cash income from shops, restaurants and so on – is effectively being applied for charitable purposes. There is a judicial authority in the UK that the expression ‘charitable purposes’ includes the furtherance and supervision of educational schools and universities, and so on.’
“So that’s just one thing, and then we have, following this correspondence, the language being used, to ‘muddy things up, Iincluded charitable status for the college in the letter to the Revenue’, so I mean I don’t know but, without prejudice to the answer to this question, I think as Accounting Officer, what waters were we trying to muddy?”
O’Sullivan: “Deputy, couple of points, I’d like to make, first of all, the nodding in the background was in relation to the fact that, obviously and this isn’t a fault of the secretariat or indeed any of the committee members but obviously this document was aware, or was available to the committee prior to the break. And perhaps if we had it prior to the break, we would have been able to make some inquiries during the time of the break. First thing..”
Mac Sharry: “One of your officials can take the time to go out because you’ll be the the only one talking and they can make those inquiries…”
Alan Kelly: “Sorry, just for clarification, the clerk has informed me that you were given it, you were giving it before the break.”
O’Sullivan: “Well, sorry, my apologies, maybe some of us had it and some of us didn’t so that’s my apologies. Secondly..”
Mac Sharry: “In any event, there are six of ye, so I’m sure one can go out and make whatever calls need to be made.”
O’Sullivan: “Secondly, I note that the date of the email correspondence is around the last piece that you’ve just quoted, deputy, is the 5th of July 2010…”
Kelly: “Commissioner, we actually I think the document from ye originally so, you had it…”
Mac Sharry: “The document was provided to us by one of your delegation here today, Commissioner.”
Joe Nugent: “Chair I explained at the start that I received it yesterday so it hadn’t…”
Mac Sharry: “You received it yesterday but, in fairness, I mean.. why is it stamped the 14th of June, if you received it yesterday. In terms of the paper trail, albeit may have been that you may not have been in the office, somebody else must have authorisation to open your mails, stamp it accordingly and so on. It says the 14th of June which is 6 days from today.”
Kelly: “Commissioner, continue..”
O’Sullivan: “Ok, I’m making the point, deputy, the email correspondence, the piece that you quoted is from the 5th of July 2010. Prior to that, it’s the 6th of April 2010 and so the period of time, the point I’m making between June and July 2010 actually, I am not sure and I am not aware of what was going on, I was not Accounting Officer. So…”
O’Sullivan: “Mr Nugent informs me he doesn’t believe that the disclosure in relation to Revenue, in relation to the College, is in relation to other matters but, leaving that aside, because I have not had an opportunity, as Accounting Officer to see or study this documentation…I find that quite unsatisfactory, that I’m not in a position to assist the committee in a fulsome way and forthrightly because Im disadvantaged by only seeing this documentation now…I also want to be in a position to consider what needs to be done with this document, having read and considered the content of it.”
Readers should note that, during the PAC meeting of May 31, 2017, Mr Culhane said that, in 2009, he wrote to the Revenue Commissioners seeking charitable status for the Sportsfield Company Ltd.
At the PAC meeting on June 14, 2017, Chief Superintendent Anne Marie Mahon told the PAC that the Sportsfield Company Ltd had charitable status and, therefore, no tax liability.
Previously: A Templemore Timeline