Belfast Telegraph

Garda may have broken law after leasing land to farmer, say auditors

Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is facing a further crisis after auditors warned that the force may have broken the law after leasing out land to a local farmer.

In a damning review of inadequate book-keeping at the Garda College in Templemore, auditors said the force could be liable for taxes, interest and penalties over the running of the restaurant in the training centre.

It uncovered a five million euro surplus in bank accounts and investment policies related to the Co Tipperary college.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has ordered the police chief in front of it to explain.

"Management and controls of finances at the Garda College in Templemore are inadequate," it said.

The Garda Internal Audit Section looked at 50 bank accounts associated with the college from 2009 to March 2016 and said its trawl found serious issues which present a "considerable risk" to the force.

It warned that An Garda Siochana may have broken the law after leasing out land known as Dromad Farm - about 6km from Templemore and originally destined to be turned into a tactical training centre.

The 125,000 euro earned in rent from local farmers went into the Garda College Restaurant Account and was not sent to the Office of Public Works (OPW).

Some of the money was spent on entertaining and for retirement gifts.

David Cullinane, Sinn Fein's representative on the PAC, said it was an extraordinary and an almost unprecedented catalogue of findings.

"We are quite clear that this cannot be passed off as legacy. That does not pass muster," he said.

Alan Kelly, Labour TD and vice chairman of the PAC, said: " That the basic best accounting practices at Templemore may not have been observed is not acceptable, and unfortunately undermines the reputation of the college."

The audit found a "complex and significant number of bank accounts, investment accounts, credit unions accounts, loan accounts and other investments".

It talked about "complex switching of funds" and "non-transparent accounting".

The 125,000 euro of rent money earned by the college will now be paid to the OPW out of the Garda budget.

Another 15,964 euro has to be returned to the European Commission. It came from Brussels to fund law enforcement training but interest was earned on it which is against the rules.

Some 50 bank accounts were found linked to the Garda College - eight of them only after auditors traced transfers, despite asking for a full list from College Management.

All bank accounts held by the Garda have to be sanctioned by the Justice Minister and Finance Minister but as recently as 2015 an account was opened with their consent.

"The current system of banking in the college does not lead to transparency and accountability," the audit said.

From 2009 to 2015, 2.8 million euro was paid into the Garda Restaurant account with large sums coming from investments including what was recorded as "An Post Investment", Irish Life Investment", "Zurich Investment Policy", "Royal Mutual Investment" and others.

The St Raphael (Garda Credit Union) Bar Account transferred 420,000 euro between December 2009 and April 2012 to "keep it going" when there was a recruitment embargo in the force.

The audit uncovered eight investments by the Garda College Restaurant and Shop from 2009 to 2015 and their value fell by 851,807 euro over that time.

Over the same period money was paid out for hiring a marquee, IT services, auctioneer's valuation fees, fixing the tennis courts, hiring a public address system, gym mats, Sigerson Cup team expenses and an electronic sign for the college.

Separately, in 2012 alone, 310,000 euro was deposited in high interest rate bank accounts by the Garda College.

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