herald

Monday 25 September 2017

O'Sullivan refuses to name gardai linked to 'suspicious' account

Noirin O'Sullivan
Noirin O'Sullivan

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan has refused to identify any individual responsible for activity on a bank account under investigation for suspected fraud.

A suspicion of serious financial fraud has been revealed in relation to the account in Cabra, on Dublin's Northside.

It is believed to involve EU funds, which were supposed to be used for garda training purposes, being transferred to the account from the Training College in Templemore.

Ms O'Sullivan told the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the head of the garda internal audit unit, Niall Kelly, had given her a report on the matter on Monday.

Fairness

She confirmed that she had referred the matter to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) for investigation, and that the Department of Justice, the Policing Authority and European auditors have also been told of the concerns.

Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry asked her who the signatory of the account was.

She said she was not in a position to answer this, as the matter is under investigation and there has to be "due process and fairness to individuals".

Ms O'Sullivan indicated that the account had different signatories over the years it was in existence - from 1999 to 2010.

She said the most recent person was "a retired senior officer" but refused to give their rank, as this would be "tantamount to identifying an individual".

Mr MacSharry suggested it was "very convenient" the matter was referred to GSOC on Monday evening, and the PAC could not now ask questions.

Ms O'Sullivan insisted she was not protecting any individual.

"Under no circumstances was this mater referred to GSOC to keep it from public view or the view of this committee," she said.

Ms O'Sullivan told Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy that it was her understanding the Cabra account was a garda account, not a personal one. She said the balance in the account ranged from €5,000 to €90,000 at its height.

Ms Murphy asked her about the level of seriousness of the potential offence.

Ms O'Sullivan said that would be a matter for GSOC to establish.

However, she said Mr Kelly reported he has "reasonable cause to suspect that potentially there may be criminal activity, fraudulent activity, on the account".

Meanwhile, Ms O'Sullivan stood by her insistence at a previous PAC meeting that she first became aware of the issues at Templemore on July 27, 2015, and immediately responded.

Her account has since been contradicted by other officials.

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane asked Ms O'Sullivan about a letter she sent to Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) Seamus McCarthy on July 31 of that year, as part of the process of signing off on garda accounts.

In the letter, she wrote she had disclosed "all instances of loss, fraud or irregularity known to have occurred or have been reported in the year".

Complex

Mr McCarthy - who only became aware of the issues at Templemore some time later - told the PAC if there were any questions over the accounts he felt it should have been brought to his attention at this time.

Ms O'Sullivan said on July 31 she was not aware of the full information about the "complex" issues at the college and wanted to get more facts.

"If I knew then what I know having had all of that work completed, of course I would have [informed the C&AG]," she said.

Mr Cullinane later pressed her repeatedly about whether she knew of "irregularities" at the time she wrote the July 31 letter.

Ms O'Sullivan said she was made aware of "issues" at the college.

Mr Cullinane suggested she could be "described as a hostile witness".

"I have never been described as a hostile witness in my entire career. I am here to assist this committee, I take issue with being described as a hostile witness," said Ms O'Sullivan.

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