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Five tax numbers - but no offshore accounts: What we know now about Templemore's finances

Top garda civil servants were grilled by the Public Accounts Committee again this week.

THIS WEEK, TOP garda civil servants appeared back before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to face a grilling about irregularities in the finances of the garda college in Templemore.

There were a number of new revelations, including that there are five tax numbers connected to the college and a new internal audit is examining, among other things, a bank account in north Dublin.

Appearing before the committee on Wednesday was:

  • John Barrett, executive director of human resources and people. At the last PAC hearing, he openly contradicted Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan about a meeting they had in relation to Templemore’s financial irregularities.
  • Niall Kelly, head of internal audit. He conducted the recent audit that revealed the extent of the financial issues. Last time he appeared before the committee, he said he felt he had been “duped” when given assurances in 2011 that issues he identified would be addressed.
  • Michael Culhane, executive director of finance and services. A letter he wrote castigating Kelly was the subject of media coverage last week.
  • Ken Ruane, head of legal affairs. He issued a letter to the Commissioner urging her to inform the Minister for Justice 15 months before she actually did so.
  • Joe Nugent, chief administrative officer.
  • Michael Howard, former chairman of the audit committee. 

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The committee held two hours-long sessions – here are some of the main points we took away from them:

No evidence of offshore accounts has been found (for now, anyway)

It was widely reported last week that the garda college may have had offshore accounts. This was based on correspondence from executive director of finance, Michael Culhane to head of internal audit Niall Kelly in February this year. In the letter, Culhane states Kelly told the college’s administrator, Superintendent McCabe, that he believed the college had offshore accounts.

“The first thing I would say about those comments is that they are hearsay,” Kelly told the committee.

Mr. Culhane was not at any meetings in the college that I attended. I would not be doing my job properly if I had not broached the possibility, given the number of bank accounts that were presented and that evolved from the audit, that some of them could have been offshore. At the end of the day, I did not find any offshore bank accounts but I had to broach that possibility and I had to discuss that with management in the college.

He again clarified later that he has “no knowledge that there are any offshore bank accounts”.

Some of the force’s top-level civil servants are seriously peeved about how they’ve been treated

TD Catherine Connolly raised the issue of a letter Culhane sent to the Commissioner and other senior gardaí about head of HR John Barrett.

In the letter sent in October 2015, he suggested Barrett should be examined under the Official Secrets Act because he posted documents relating to the college’s finances to himself.

“I have concerns in terms of the manner in which he was treating confidential documents,” he said.

“I was concerned that there might be some leakage to the press, but issues such as these should have been dealt with as part of the formal process to send information to the internal auditor or Comptroller and Auditor General,” he later told the committee.

Barrett revealed that he tried seven times to get this document and when it was eventually given to him through a Freedom of Information request, some 85% was redacted. He only saw it in full when it was given yesterday to the committee.

“I discovered the existence of that letter almost a year to the day after it had been written. The interesting inversion of trust that was presented to the committee appals me. We requested, legitimately, a letter written about me that I had no knowledge of, which alleges a potential criminal offence,” he said.

Another letter Culhane wrote, this time to Niall Kelly, referred to his audit report as “unprofessional, misleading and mischievous”.

Both Barrett and Kelly said they felt there was an attempt to undermine them as they attempted to bring these serious issues to light.

“This is not some kind of Orwellian, four legs good, two legs bad – those who wear uniforms, those who do not,” Barrett said.

It is nothing to do with that.  This is a fundamental issue about accountability around the public purse.  We have an obligation to come before the committee and tell it the truth.

There’s a management crisis in An Garda Síochána

Labour TD Alan Kelly made a point of asking each of the five civil servants before the committee whether that had “full confidence in every member of the senior management team in An Garda Síochána”. Here’s how it went…

Joe Nugent: Yes

John Barrett: I have some reservations.

Alen Kelly: Mr. Barrett does not have full confidence in senior management?

Barrett: I am very concerned about what I learned this morning [about the letter relating to him], truthfully. It is quite shocking. The Deputy is probably asking me the question at a bad time.

Alan Kelly: I will take it that Mr. Barrett does not have full confidence in senior management. Would Mr. Kelly like to respond?

Niall Kelly: I would concur with Mr. Barrett.

Alan Kelly: Mr. Kelly does not have full confidence either?

Niall Kelly: There are some questions around it.

Alan Kelly: In terms of senior management, I am speaking about the commissioners at senior level, and the Garda Commissioner. Does Mr. Culhane have full confidence in senior management?

Culhane: Yes

Alan Kelly: Mr Ruane?

Ken Ruane: Yes, deputy.

Niall Kelly later clarified that he had “absolutely no problem” with the current Deputy Commissioner or the current Commissioner.

Doors are being flung open, information is being provided.  There are no hindrances to me at the moment, but in the past there were.

The committee still doesn’t know exactly when the Garda Commissioner knew about the issues

It was revealed to the committee that the first meeting of a steering group established to examine these issues took place on 2 July 2015. This does not tally with the Commissioner’s comments to the committee recently. She said the was first informed on the financial irregularities on 27 July that year and that she acted promptly and established a steering group.

Barrett said he himself was at this meeting on 2 July and Culhane backed him up.

“This is very important. We now have a situation where the Commissioner said she acted promptly after being informed on 27 July, but we have Mr. Barrett giving conflicting evidence stating that there was a meeting of the steering group on 2 July. This group met for the first time not after 27 July, but on 2 July,” Alan Kelly said.

Head of legal affairs Ken Ruane.

Head of legal affairs, Ken Ruane, then chipped in to say that Barrett met with him on 30 June and told him he had informed the chief administrative officer of his concerns about Templemore and that the CAO had informed the Commissioner.

Barrett confirmed he had been told that the Commissioner knew of the issue, though he did not know “to what degree”. He said then CAO Cyril Dunne could clarify this in his own evidence to the committee next month.

Michael Howard also told the committee that he met the Commissioner to discuss these issues on 16 June.

“The meeting with the Commissioner, in brief terms, probably took the form of a lecture by me on the contents of the blue book, the manual on public financial procedures. I took the information I had got from Mr Barrett and other information from Mr Niall Kelly and I put it through what I would call the blue book filter.”

The Commissioner will, no doubt, be asked to explain the conflicting evidence when she appears before the committee again.

There are five tax numbers connected to the garda college

TD Peter Burke asked how many revenue accounts there were and was told by Nugent that there were five.

“They are the main Garda Síochána tax number, Sportsfield, the restaurant, the bar and the shop,” he said.

Burke then asked him if they were all tax compliant.

“We are in discussions with the Revenue Commissioners at the moment,” Nugent replied. He also said some of the entities have been wound up – the bar, for example, is closed.

He later told the committee that up-to-date returns had been filed for each of these numbers.  But he said Revenue will determine whether they are compliant or not.

A new internal audit is examining a bank account in Cabra

This issue was raised by Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan who asked Barrett if such an account existed. Barrett said it has been suggested to him that it might and that he believed it was an AIB acount.

He said he did not know what it was for but he had given details to Kelly for further review.

“My understanding in relation to an account that may have made its way to Cabra is more related to EU funding,” Barret said.

Does Mr. Barrett think the EU funding is going where it is supposed to go?
I do not know is the short answer.

“My understanding is that some of those proceeds are not being spent. They are being spent on non-core Garda issues, if one likes, and the moneys are not going where they should be going,” Madigan commented.

TD Catherine Murphy also briefly questioned Kelly about money being “sent to a bank account in Dublin which was under the control of a former senior garda officer”.

“I would rather not answer that question because it concerns an ongoing audit,” he told the committee.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan will appear before the committee again next month, along with some of the civil servants questioned this week.

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