The 26 County Garda police commissioner Noirin O Sullivan remains in her post despite a barrage of shocking and incredible revelations about the depth of fraud and corruption in the police force she heads.
Evidence pointing to some fifty secret bank accounts, money laundering, the falsification of up to a million breath tests, and 14,700 wrongful convictions has emerged in recent weeks.
However, the commissioner has continued to bat away demands that she step down, promising reforms. “I have a journey of work that I have to do and I have to make sure I see through that commitment,” she told reporters at a press conference.
It was revealed that an internal audit has uncovered serious irregularities in the operation of the main Garda training centre in Templemore, County Tipperary.
Fifty questionable bank accounts used by the college were uncovered by the audit, and an actual laundry was used to ‘launder’ funds that should have gone to the state. The audit found 38 per cent of the expenditure of the ‘Laundry and Services Account’ at Templemore “had nothing to do with laundry or services”. Money supposed to be used for laundry services went on meals, flowers and golf, the report found.
In 2008 there were outgoings of 200 euro on flowers, 500 euro on staff bonus, 7,231 euro on “meals entertainment”, 2,150 euro on “contribution to parish clergy” and 300 euro on “jewellery and gifts”. There were also payments of 1,040 euro to a golf society, 500 euro to a boat club and 5,527 euro for the GAA.
Amid allegations of criminal activity, Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane said the accounts, containing some five million euro, were effectively “a slush fund”
Mr Cullinane said: “It is incredible that staff with no training or experience were given control of public monies at Templemore. The team was not able to give any assurance that financial controls were compliant with proper procedures. It comes at a time when public trust in An Garda Siochana is at an all-time low.”
Aside from the ‘laundry’ money, a six figure sum raised from leasing a state-owned farm to local farmers was used to pay for various entertainments, gifts, and recreational activities. Other shady activities were uncovered in relation to staff expenses and the diversion of student fees.
The Garda Commissioner has accepted no blame for the scandal, which she blamed on management at the college.
She has also refuted suggestions she should have acted over the phantom drink driving tests scandal.
Independent TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly cited media reports that up to half of the 400,000 drunk-driving checkpoints between 2011 and 2016 never happened at all.
In all, it has been reported that there were a million bogus breath tests in a total of two million. The inflated total is thought to be a result of fraudulent claims for bonus and overtime payments on the basis of the increased test activity.
During a tense four-hour parliamentary justice committee meeting over the phantom drink driving tests scandal, O’Sullivan said some gardai may have “deliberately” inputted wrong drink driving tests information, but that she remained “very passionate” about staying in place. She apologised for the “grave mistakes” and “wrongdoing” involved.
Pearse Doherty of Sinn Fein attacked what he described as the commissioner’s “back me or sack me” attitude, and said public confidence in her was “gone” and that most people in the Dublin parliament could not express confidence in her.
A separate scandal involves 14,700 wrongful convictions which resulted after court summons were wrongly issued to thousands accused of speeding offence, when fines should have been issued by the Gardai instead. Each one of those wrongly convicted could now sue the 26 County state in combined claims that could run to tens of millions of euro.
The commissioner is also currently being investigated by a public inquiry which will hear evidence that she acted in concert with other state bodies to conduct a smear campaign against a police whistleblower who tried to highlight wrongdoing.
While government ministers continued to back the commissioner, Fianna Fail justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said he and his party are unable to express confidence in her. However, he again stopped short of backing a Sinn Fein no-confidence motion against the commissioner due next month, which could trigger her resignation, and possibly the collapse of the minority government.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is under intense pressure to quit over her failure to hold O’Sullivan to account. Fitzgerald has continued to express confidence in the Garda chief despite the unprecedented revelations.
Fine Gael Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar also insisted Ms O’Sullivan is ‘part of the solution’, not part of the problem. He said opposition parties ‘should not try to play politics with this very important issue’
Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald described the situation as “farcical” as the police force lurched from one crisis to another on an almost daily basis.
“This is just an absolute mess and there is a clear absence of leadership, that’s not good enough. We need confidence and proper leadership,” Ms McDonald told Irish radio. “It is like Groundhog Day. It is past unacceptable at this stage.”
Ms McDonald called for detailed answers and an assurance it would not happen again. “Serving gardai have been battered and bruised by wave after wave of controversy,” she said. “It is now eminently clear that the current Commissioner cannot lead.”