Auditors alarmed at ‘level of Garda inaction’ in youth diversion scheme
Independent auditors have said they were “very concerned” at serious failings in the operation of the Garda Youth Diversion Programme.
The Garda Audit and Risk Committee said their alarm was heightened given the “level of Garda inaction” and the large number of victims affected.
In their 2019 annual report, the committee also flagged concerns in relation to overpayments and fraudulent payments within the organisation and the reduction in staff in the Garda’s internal auditing service.
Controversy raged following revelations that up to 3,500 juvenile offenders had escaped any sanction after they were deemed unsuitable for the Youth Diversion Programme and referred back to local gardaí for prosecution.
The juveniles were involved in a total of 8,000 offences between 2010 and 2018, affecting 2,500 individual victims and 1,000 businesses.
As of last October, more than 460 gardaí had been disciplined.
“The Committee was provided with regular updates on the serious control issues that emerged in An Garda Síochána operation of the Youth Diversion Programme,” the report said.
- The operation of the programme;
- The amount of referrals and children involved;
- The referrals that were subject to Garda inaction;
- The improvements to PULSE and elsewhere to adequately address the problem;
- Plans to notify and/or meet with the victims and the related disciplinary process.
“The Committee was very concerned at the findings presented, especially in respect of the level of Garda inaction and the large number of victims affected.
“The Commissioner and his management team assured the Committee that the mitigating measures in train would adequately address the failings to date and would ensure no re-occurrence.”
Elsewhere in its annual report, the committee said there were “a number of high-risk audit issues of concern”, including the need for a new integrated HR/Payroll system and a detailed plan for tackling the issue of “overpayments of Garda pay and pensions”.
It said a previous report into Garda payroll should be fully investigated, especially issues “of possible fraudulent payments”.
It said there were 21 cases of suspected fraud which were being investigated.
The committee said procurement procedures continued to be an issue, particularly in relation to towing and storage of vehicles and medical services, but noted improvements in 2019.
The committee said it welcomed the ongoing commitment of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to adequately resourcing the Garda Internal Audit Service (GIAS).
It said during 2019, the GIAS worked close to its full complement of 15 staff, but said that towards the end of the year it dropped from 15 to 13, adding that this should be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.
In relation to efforts to deal with the phantom breath test scandal of 2017 and 2018, the committee noted improvements in preventing future abuses in mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints.
On the new Operating Model, it said some issues had been identified, such as the need to change legislation to allow for a change in Garda management structures (such as removing responsibility from the superintendent) and IT issues.