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Resolution of garda issues hangs on solving tensions between senior managers

The first recommendation in the Public Accounts Committee’s report on Templemore focused on strained relationships at the top of the organisation.

The committee notes that significant professional tensions were evidence between members of senior management within An Garda Síochána. It is the view of the committee that the level of disagreement is such that it will undermine the ability of senior management to fully resolve issues and complete the implementation programme. The committee recommends that resolution of these issues be prioritised by An Garda Síochána.

FOUR MONTHS AFTER the publication of a sensational report revealing financial irregularities at the garda training college in Templemore, the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee has made a number of recommendations based on its own inquiries into the scandal.

PAC REPORT 758A7187-2_90518243 The Public Accounts Committee launched its damning report on Tuesday. Source: Eamonn Farrell

The first on its list of nine recommendations focused on the palpable tension between some members of staff at management level.

This tension became clear in the first session of the PAC to examine these issues, back in May, when Director of Human Resources John Barrett openly contradicted the Garda Commissioner about a meeting they had on 27 July 2015. Nóirín O’Sullivan said there was a “very brief conversation” about the irregularities in Templemore. Barrett said the meeting lasted over two hours, and provided detailed notes to the committee to back it up.

noirin The Garda Commissioner was contradicted by her head of HR about a meeting they had in relation to the financial irregularities.

TDs were baffled by this interaction – Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald described it on the day as “deeply problematic”.

At this same PAC hearing, the force’s head of audit, Niall Kelly, who conducted the most recent audit of Templemore’s finances, revealed he had sought copies of the 2008 audit of the college’s accounts, both that year and in 2009, but he did not receive them.

kelly Head of internal audit Niall Kelly told the committee there was interference with his work.

He said he brought up this issue with management at the time and in 2011 he noted this in a report to then Commissioner Martin Callinan. Kelly told the committee he later removed this paragraph from the final version of the report, having received assurances that the issues would be addressed. He said he regretted this decision and told the committee he felt he had been “duped”.

Again, committee members were aghast – but this was just the beginning.

‘Mischievous’

The Commissioner did not appear at the next session, but four of her top civil servants did. They were:

  • John Barrett, head of HR
  • Niall Kelly, head of internal audit
  • Michael Culhane, director of finance
  • Ken Ruane, head of legal affairs

At the launch of the PAC’s report on Tuesday, Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells, referenced this session and the atmosphere, in particular, between Culhane, Barrett and Kelly:

“The dynamic on that day was unbelievable.”

Correspondence provided to the committee showed criticisms by Culhane of both Kelly and Barrett. In one letter, he had referred to Kelly’s opinions as “unprofessional, misleading and mischievous”.

Michael Culhane, left, and Niall Kelly, right.

Another letter, written to the Commissioner and a number of other top-level gardaí a year ago, questioned whether Barrett might be in breach of Official Secrets Act in posting documents to himself in relation to these irregularities.

Barrett had written a briefing document, bringing together information on the irregularities from older audits. He brought this to the attention of his superiors and told the committee he felt as if his concerns were not taken seriously.

He was particularly agitated in this hearing, revealing that he tried three times himself and four times through his solicitor to gain access to documents relating to him.

barrett hands Head of HR John Barrett said he was frustrated by the lack of action taken after he highlighted issues at Templemore.

When eventually released to him under the Freedom of Information Act, he said 85% was redacted. This letter written by Michael Culhane about him was, however, handed over to the PAC in its entirety and this is how Barrett first learned of its existence.

He said it reflected “the situation in its reality” that he had no knowledge of a criminal allegation against him.

‘A lack of trust’

At the third PAC session, Deputy Commissioner Dónal Ó Cúaláin acknowledged what everybody already knew at this stage – there was a “clash” between Michael Culhane and John Barrett.

“There is a lack of trust between those two people,” he said.

The Garda Commissioner was also pushed to address these tensions when she appeared at the fourth session. She told the committee that when she received the letter from Culhane which criticised Barrett, it appeared to her there were “interpersonal differences of opinion between two individuals” at play. She did concede Culhane had used “very strong language” in his letter.

PAC REPORT  758A7103_90518258 (1) Catherine Connolly said there was an absence of a sense of common purpose at management level. Source: Eamonn Farrell

On Tuesday, independent TD Catherine Connolly pointed to one of the findings in the PAC’s report, that there was a “notable absence of a sense of common purpose at management” level. She expressed concern that the Commissioner looked on this as, simply, a “clash of personalities”.

During the press conference, Labour’s Alan Kelly, who is vice chair of the committee, described “two different cultures” in the organisation. One, he said, was made up of people who wanted to “preserve the status quo”, the others wanted to “break the mould” and ensure matters came to light.

“It was almost like two tribes colliding, this was very evident in the committee.”

There was tension too, between members of the PAC and in particular the garda commissioner.

“Do I think gardaí were happy to be in front of the PAC at that level? No. Do I think they wanted to be there? No. Do I think they were prepared to be? No. Do believe the evidence put in front of us was the maximum amount of evidence? No. Do I believe there is more stuff to come? Absolutely,” Kelly told TheJournal.ie.

Kelly himself clashed with the Commissioner, when he pushed her on whether she had full confidence in her management team. After being asked the question eight times, O’Sullivan still did not go as far as saying she had confidence in each individual – rather she believed in the “collective ability” of the team.

akconfidence Kelly regularly appeared frustrated with the Commissioner during questioning at the PAC.

”That doesn’t mean you have confidence in every individual. I find that absolutely alarming,” Kelly told her at the time.

The PAC’s report on Tuesday described “an apparent profound professional disagreement among senior management” about how to address the financial issues at the garda college.

“It is the view of the committee that the level of disagreement is such that it will undermine the ability of senior management to fully resolve issues and complete the implementation programme unless resolved by An Garda Síochána.”

Garda management has said it is now reviewing the report and when the Commissioner returns from her five-week holiday, she will have the challenge of ensuring her fractured team can come together to tackle the force’s ever-mounting scandals.

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