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'My interactions with Minister Fitzgerald have raised concerns about her willingness to be transparent'

Here is a timeline of event detailing the Minister’s obfuscation on the handling of the findings of the Templemore interim audit report, writes Catherine Murphy TD.

Catherine Murphy TD

THE LATEST REVELATIONS from An Garda Síochána’s Head of Human Resources, Mr John Barrett, regarding the findings of the interim audit at Templemore Garda training college are yet another piece in this increasingly complex jigsaw.

This entire episode has been mired in what can only be described as misleading information, untruths, contradictions and a potential covering up of the facts.

The Commissioner once again has serious questions to answer in relation to the way in which these findings – first given to the Minister for Justice last September – have been handled.

But the Commissioner is not the only one with questions to answer and the role of the Department of Justice and Minister Fitzgerald cannot go unchallenged.

My unsatisfactory interactions with the Minister 

My interactions with the Minister on this issue over the last few months have been unsatisfactory and have raised concerns about Minister Fitzgerald’s willingness to be open and transparent regarding the serious issues raised in the report’s findings. The details of who knew what and when are crucial.

Here is a timeline of events detailing the Minister’s obfuscation on the handling of the findings of the Templemore interim audit report, as far back as last January. 

January 31 2017

I used a parliamentary question to ask the Minister to publish the internal audit section report. In her reply, the Minister confirmed to me that she had received a copy of the report on September 16 2016 and that the Garda Commissioner had, at that time, accepted in principle the findings of that report.

Minister Fitzgerald concluded her reply to me by assuring me that the final report would be furnished to the Controller and Auditor General by the Garda Commissioner.

February 9 2017

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, I once again questioned the Minister for Justice on the details which were emerging in relation to the audit that had been conducted in Templemore Garda training college. During the course of that debate I asked the Minister for details of the audit and its findings.

The Minister, in her reply, took a dismissive line and told me it was simply an interim audit that had been “in the public arena” and that “questions about it had been answered at the Justice Committee” well before it had been in the public arena.

On the floor of the Dáil that day I had no reason to assume the Minister was misleading me. However, upon returning to my office later that afternoon I discovered that, despite exhaustive searches through the records of the Justice Committee, there was no evidence of any discussion on the issues ever having taken place.

February 10 2017

I contacted Minister Fitzgerald seeking clarification and received an email acknowledging my correspondence. Having heard nothing in the 4-week period following my initial email, I once again contacted the Minister’s office on March 7 and the following day I received a reply from the Minister stating that she had mistakenly referenced the Justice Committee when in fact she meant the Public Accounts Committee.

The problem with that explanation was that, as a member of the PAC myself, I knew that it had not been discussed in that Committee and in fact it was only entered onto the correspondence list after I had written to the Committee seeking to add it to the Committee’s work programme.

The email stating it had been discussed at PAC also referred to the issue having been previously raised in the Seanad. Having undertaken an extensive trawl of the records of the Seanad sitting to which the Minister referred I came across one sentence in a wide-ranging debate on broad Garda issues and this was simply a repetition of the fact that an interim report had flagged some issues. Any attempt to portray what had transpired in the Seanad as a discussion on the topic is quite simply misleading.

In late March I used an opportunity during Questions on Promised Legislation to ask the Taoiseach for an update.

March 29 2017

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I received an email from Minister Fitzgerald stating that the PAC had handled the issue in a preliminary fashion and that there had been a “discussion” on the issue in the Seanad. I would once again draw her attention to the fact that it was I who had written to the PAC seeking scrutiny of this report and the letter had simply been entered onto the correspondence list of the committee while a letter issue to An Garda Síochána.

There was no discussion at the PAC of any form regarding the report. This despite the Minister’s initial reply to me that questions were answered in committee and that “detailed information” had been put on the record.

This was simply not true. I was now in the position that the Minister for Justice, on four separate occasions, had significantly misrepresented the facts regarding how the Templemore interim audit findings had been handled.

March 30 2017

During Priority Questions to Minister Fitzgerald I raised the significant discrepancies in the Minister’s various replies to me. When I pointed out the timeline of misrepresentations to Minister Fitzgerald I suggested that the record of the Dáil should be corrected on this issue. In her reply to me she stated that she had “made a mistake” and that there “clearly couldn’t have been a full discussion” in Committee on the issue and she went on to correct the record of the Dáil.

It concerns me greatly that had I not pursued this issue over the course of a full eight weeks, demanding that the Minister address the inconsistencies in here various replies to me that her initial, factually incorrect, response on the floor of the Dáil, indicating that the report had gotten full scrutiny would have been allowed to stand when nothing could have been further from the truth.

Catherine Murphy TD is Social Democrats co-leader and a member of the Public Accounts Committee.

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