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Deputy Commissioner describes 'clash' and 'lack of trust' between two senior civil servants

Anne Marie McMahon said she was made director of the Sportsfield company at the garda college by virtue of her role in the force.

Updated 6.15pm

TODAY SENIOR GARDAÍ and civil servants in the organisation attended the third session of the Public Accounts Committee to examine financial irregularities at the garda college in Templemore.

These sessions, aimed at establishing how these irregularities happened and what has been done to fix the issues, has been overshadowed by tensions between the force’s senior staff.

Last month, it emerged executive director of finance and services Michael Culhane wrote a letter to the Commissioner and other senior gardaí questioning whether head of HR John Barrett may be guilty of a criminal offence in posting documents relating to Templemore’s finances to himself.

In today’s session, Deputy Commissioner Donal O Cualáin spoke frankly about the tension between these two men. He said two they were two key people in the organisation with responsibility for fixing these issues.

“As was shown in here in the last meeting, there is a clash, there was a clash, between those two people. There is a lack of trust between those two people.”

Cyril Dunne, former Chief Administrative Officer, also spoke of “consistent tensions” between the two.

The brief two-hour meeting

Barrett, at the first PAC hearing on this topic, had also clashed with Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, when he openly contradicted her evidence about a meeting they had in relation to these issues.

O’Sullivan described the meeting of 27 July 2015 as “brief”, while Barrett said it last two hours. Today Dunne told the AC it lasted up to an hour, while O Cualáin said it was “definitely longer than five minutes”.

“I’m glad we didn’t clear that one up anyway lads because it’s seriously bloodywell incredible that there is such a range of views coming from the same meeting,” Labour’s Alan Kelly told them.

He described this meeting as pivotal, adding that it would “go down in history”.

There were also criticisms from Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald of accountant Barry McGee, who compiled a report on these irregularities in Templemore back in 2008. In an email written to John Barrett in 2015, McGee wrote of the potential risk to the reputation of the organisation.

He also referenced possible ramifications – including the accounting officer being called before the PAC. McGee went on in his email to discuss solving the problem “quietly, without risking exposure”.

“That’s what was going on,” McDonald said, adding that this was clearly the strategy employed by the organisation in dealing with the issue.

‘I can’t get out of it’

The committee heard this morning from Assistant Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon, who told members she never benefitted from being a director of the Sportsfield company set up at the garda college in Templemore.

McMahon is one of a number of members of the organisation listed as a director of this company, which was set up to fund the development of garda sporting facilities.

Sportsfield Co was established in 1983 and it emerged in the recent internal audit report on the college’s finances that surplus money from the garda restaurant was transferred to the company and then onto other entities – including €100,000 to the Garda Boat Club.

McMahon said she became a director of Sportsfield in 2011 when she took on her post over the gardacollege.

“I am a director by virtue of my role in An Garda Síochána,” she said.

She stressed that her role as a director of this company “did not and does not impact materially on my role in An Garda Síochána”.

It was on that basis, she explained, that she had never submitted a return to the Standards in Public Office Commission to declare this directorship. McMahon told the committee she has retrospectively made a declaration since issues were brought to light in the recent audit report.

Kelly said the McMahon’s comment about the directorship having no impact on her job was “completely irrelevant”.

He said it was still necessary to “meet the requirements of law” by making a declaration.

“I got no benefit from it – good, bad or different,” she said, adding that she had no interest in continuing as a director.

I’m still a director, I want to get out of it – I cannot get out of it.

McMahon has been asked by Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Joe Nugent to remain as director until the company is wound up.

‘This is the reality’

Over the course of this morning’s hearing, the assistant commissioner also revealed that no tax returns were filed for Sportsfield Co for 2015 or 2016.

She explained that all but one of the directors are no longer in the garda college and that had impacted on the filing of returns.

“This isn’t an excuse, by the way, but this is the reality,” she said.

McMahon said these returns are now being compiled with a view to being able to file them “in a number of weeks”.

‘Unacceptable’

There were criticisms from a number of members of the committee today of former Chief Administrative Officer Cyril Dunne’s failure to read the recent audit report before appearing before them.

He told the committee that Nially Kelly, head of garda internal audit and author of the recent explosive report, had only sent him two pages of the report.

“Mr Kelly said to me, wrote to me actually, that these were the only two pages that had reference to me.”

“I find that unacceptable,” Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane told him.

“It is treating us with contempt that you have not read that report,” the deputy later added.

For his part, Dunne said he believed he had acted properly when first alerted to potential issues with the college’s finances in 2015.

He told the committee that he informed the Garda Commissioner in the first week of July that year that this problem required further investigation. This does not tally with the Commissioner’s evidence to the committee, that she first learned of the issues on 27 July.

1cyril Cyril Dunne, former CAO in An Garda Síochána.

A working group was established with a view to implementing recommendations made in previous reports and Dunne raised the issues at a meeting of the audit committee in September that year.

Seamus McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, told the PAC that it is his view that his office should have been made aware of these revelations in mid 2015. It had been recommended by a number of senior civil servants that this action be taken – even before 2015 – but that did not happen.

Read: Head of garda HR steps down from ethics committee amid internal row>

Read: Five tax numbers – but no offshore accounts: What we know now about Templemore’s finances>

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