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Saturday 23 September 2017

€100k transferred to Garda Boat Club was 'embezzlement' - TD

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell was speaking about the Garda Training College in Templemore
Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell was speaking about the Garda Training College in Templemore

Widespread financial irregularities at the Garda Training College have been described as "embezzlement" by a Government politician.

However, senior garda management has said it is too early to identify if a criminal offence has been committed.

At the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell raised the issue of €100,000 which was transferred to the Garda Boat Club, a private club and separate entity to the force.

It was one case identified by an internal audit carried out by the Garda Internal Unit, which detailed the use of 48 different bank accounts and a "non-transparent system of accounting" at the college in Templemore, Co Tipperary.

Crime

Concerns about the practice and protocols at the facility were expressed as far back as 2006 but it has emerged that Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan was only made aware of the financial discrepancies in July 2015.

The garda chief appeared before the PAC yesterday afternoon, where Mr Farrell described certain aspects of the financial practices as "embezzlement".

Mr Farrell was specifically referring to the €100,000 sum transferred to the boat club.

"For a period of time Templemore were charging for the laundry service which led to large sums of money being accrued, which led to money being transferred all over the place up to and including investment accounts and all the rest of it," he said.

"€100,000 of money was sent to a private institution, the runners of which are not auditable or answerable to the gardai.

"The biggest issue I have with that is that they are public funds and they are in a private organisation. There's a term for that - embezzlement," Mr Farrell said.

However, several senior gardai, including the commissioner, said it was too early to determine if a criminal offence had occurred.

When asked if there was anything to suspect a crime was committed in transferring of funds from the college to the Garda Boat Club, Ms O'Sullivan said no.

"I think it's too early to say... several matters have to be followed up on.

"In order to establish whether or not there is a suspicion of something illegal happening, all the material available needs to be considered," she told the committee.

Niall Kelly, who heads the eight-person internal unit, said he made attempts to query the accounts at the Garda College in 2008 and 2009 but these were unsuccessful.

It was only in 2011 that he got assurances the issue was being addressed.

TD Catherine Murphy described contents in the report as "shocking". Her Dail colleague Marc MacSharry said the attitude of An Garda Siochana was to "sit on it" because it makes the organisation "look bad".

Cash

The garda chief said some of the issues identified in the report date back to the 1980s but added that the practices carried out were unacceptable.

In particular, the report focused on the use of cash from the rental of college land to farmers, the operation of a private company holding land for college sports facilities and the use of accounts linked to the college bar, restaurant and laundry service.

Some €124,903 was collected in rent from farmers for the use of land called Dromad Farm between 2009 and 2013.

The land that was bought for a tactical training centre was not used due to the financial downturn. Although the Office of Public Works was the legal owner, the college rented it out and the funds were deposited in the college restaurant account.

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