The financial processes and procedures the Garda internal audit unit uncovered in the interim report on the Garda College were not fit for purpose and are unacceptable by corporate governance standards. Many of the issues identified have their roots in the 1980s before the Garda Commissioner became the Accounting Officer. While attempts were made to address some of these issues, they were not sufficient and did not go far enough. While some practices, as identified in the interim audit report, should not have happened and are certainly well short of modern financial procedures and controls and public sector governance and financial procedures, it should be noted that the report has found the majority of expenditure at the Garda College is managed to a high standard and compliant with the Garda finance code. It is also important to provide reassurance that the Garda College continues to provide high quality training.
As Accounting Officer, I take my statutory responsibility for how An Garda Síochána spends taxpayer’s money very seriously. It is vital that it be spent efficiently and effectively and in the best interests of the people, the State and An Garda Síochána. That is why on receipt of the draft interim internal audit report in September 2016 the Garda executive immediately accepted its findings and commenced implementation of the recommendations. We are actively seeking to ensure the issues raised in the recently published report will be addressed as quickly as possible by putting strong financial and administrative controls in place in the Garda College.
When the matters raised at the Garda College came to the attention of the Garda executive in July 2015, they were of grave concern. It was directed that a high level steering group, to include representatives from the Department of Justice and Equality, be established immediately. Between July 2015 and March 2016, the steering group actioned a number of initiatives, including closing bank accounts and seeking legal advice to resolve some of the complex issues associated with unwinding the existing systems and governance arrangements.
In March 2016 the Garda internal audit unit was appointed to examine all of the issues involved. It produced a draft interim report in September 2016, including a total of 19 recommendations. Given the seriousness of the issues identified, all of the recommendations were accepted immediately. At the time all interested parties were also invited to make submissions. The report was finalised and accepted by the Garda audit committee in March 2017 and published by An Garda Síochána. The March 2017 report and its recommendations have been accepted fully by the executive.
Since September 2016, activity has been focused on implementation of the report’s recommendations. In that time we have also sought the advice of independent external governance experts. I will outline some of the actions taken to date.
Responsibility for college administration, including revised financial procedures, has now been assigned to an acting interim principal administrator. The administrator is a civilian Garda member at principal officer level who has not previously worked at the Garda College and who has experience of public financial procedures. The administrator is heading an interim administration team in the Garda College.
A new operational structure for administrative functions and ancillary services in the Garda College has been designed and we are seeking approval from the Policing Authority to recruit personnel with the appropriate financial and administrative skills. External accountants have been appointed to provide specialist accounting services and advice on the implementation of the recommendations made in the interim audit report.
The number of bank accounts identified in the interim audit report in the Garda College has been reduced to six. We are in the process of closing down the remaining accounts in line with the recommendations of the report.
We are working with the Office of Public Works to ensure all interests in the lands are in State ownership. We are working with the Office of Government Procurement to prepare tenders for the provision of food and ancillary services in the Garda College. The Institute of Public Administration is to provide training for appropriate Garda staff and members on public financial procedures and standards.
A dedicated project team has been put in place to ensure the interim audit report’s recommendations will be fully implemented. The project team reports to the steering committee chaired by the chief administrative officer, Mr. Nugent. It includes a representative from the Department of Justice and Equality. Regular updates on progress are provided for the head of internal audit, the Garda audit committee, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Policing Authority. An assistant commissioner has been tasked with conducting a preliminary examination to establish whether there are other matters that require further inquiry and, if so, to make recommendations on the appropriate approach to be adopted.
The practices identified in the interim audit report are unacceptable. We are actively implementing the report’s recommendations. As I have said publicly on other matters, An Garda Síochána uncovered these deficiencies and we are working closely with the Department of Justice and Equality, the Policing Authority, the Garda audit committee, the Office of Public Works and the Comptroller and Auditor General to ensure they cannot happen again.