Templemore Garda College's accounting problems need to be sorted out as soon as possible so the local swimming pool and playing fields can be re-opened, and the longer the revelations continue, the more damage will be done, claim local public representatives from across the political divide.
Recent revelations have shone a light on the College’s internal financial systems, and have directly led to the closure of much loved playing facilities enjoyed by generations of townsfolk.
Deputy Michael Lowry said he initially raised the issue of Templemore Garda Golf Club, the land of which is owned by the Garda College. In October, Deputy Lowry called for the golf club close to the College to not be closed for the expansion of the training facility. There were options to expand and develop the Garda facilities without encroaching on the golf club. At the time, it wasn’t yet realised there were financial irregularities “bubbling under the surface”, he told the Tipperary Star. However, since the audit report has been published it “does raise serious concerns about the appropriateness of the manner in which the accounts were dealt with.”
Deputy Lowry said most of the issues are “historic” and it would be difficult to definitively “put the blame” at the feet of any one senior Officer. “I would say that proper accounting procedures should be put in place. My examination of the facts in this case would lead me to believe there was no misappropriation, no individual was enriched as a result of it.”
While there may have been poor accounting practices, and a “laxity in relation to the movement of money within the system, and that shouldn’t have been there, there should have been proper accountability. That didn’t exist.” The important thing now is to correct what happened, and put in place appropriate structures to ensure full transparency, said Deputy Lowry. “I’d be anxious to bring this matter to a conclusion. The longer it drags on, and the more publicity it gets, the adverse impact it will have on the College itself. I’m more concerned with developing the College, and securing its future, than trying to embarrass somebody who made decisions years ago.”
Access to the Swimming Pool has now been blocked for three months, depriving hundreds of local people and especially schoolchildren of a vital source of life-saving swimming lessons, and exercise.
Former Mayor of Templemore Town Council Cllr Joe Bourke, also current Cathaoirleach of Thurles-Templemore Municipal District, said he will be raising the matter at Co. Council level, while conveying the Council’s concerns to the Garda authorities.
Cllr Bourke said he has spoken with Margaret Nugent, the College Chief Superintendent, regarding access to the pool, and a play area adjacent to the College. “The field up there beside the Graveyard is fabulous. And it was catering for hundreds of kids at a go, with three fields. We arrived up there one evening, and the gates were locked.”
It’s understood it will be next September before any decision can be made regarding reopening the pool and playing fields. “At least we can know then and go make alternative arrangements,” says Cllr Bourke. The playing fields were also closed to the public about three months ago, while the Garda inquiries are ongoing. The sports field at St. Joseph’s graveyard, contains three playing fields, and was used by townsfolk, including the Ladies Football team. “Whatever will be decided, will be decided by September. I’ll be raising it at our next Council meeting,” added Cllr Bourke
Former town Councillor Jim O’Shea also told the Tipperary Star that his own family have benefitted from the use of the swimming pool. “It’s very disappointing to see that facility closed, from a life-saving point of view. Every school in town used it. Other bodies have swimming classes up there.” Local man Bill Corcoran has taught generations of children how to swim through the Beaver swimming club, at a minimum of cost.
Labour TD for Tipperary and Vice-chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Alan Kelly TD, has called for an independent review of the administration of accounts in Templemore to be headed up by the fraud squad but overseen by GSOC along with a team of independent international experts.
“In order to properly investigate what happened in Templemore, we need the fraud squad to head up review overseen by GSOC and international experts. It has come to a stage where we cannot expect the Gardaí alone to investigate alleged wrongdoings into their own organisation. The issues brought up by whistleblowers in the Gardaí are being investigated by the Charleton Inquiry. The root-and branch review of the Gardaí is being led by Kathleen O’Toole. We can’t have a situation where issues in Templemore are being dealt with by the Gardaí as normal. “The culture at the highest levels in management of An Garda Siochána for years ensured that this was kept away from the internal audit section, and when the Commissioner was told about it, and separately legally advised to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Justice she didn’t act”, he maintained.
“This situation with the Garda Commissioner is a crisis for our country, for our justice system and for An Garda Siochána. The ordinary, decent, hard working Garda is being let down by senior figures in their organisation,” concluded Deputy Kelly.
Meanwhile, there has been a lot of disquiet in Templemore with the town cast into the national limelight for much unwanted publicity. Normally, the town hits the headlines on a number of occasions during the year for the Garda graduation ceremonies in the College which are a real highlight. But, this unwanted publicity has made a lot of local people very uncomfortable.
The Garda College is an invaluable element of the local economy with most of the services provided sourced locally. Much employment is also locally based as far as the cleaning, equipping, catering and provision of utilities is concerned. And, while there is absolutely no question of there being any doubt about the future of the College as a result of the current crux, locals would prefer to not be in the spotlight presently.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.