“Coaching” sessions for Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and for other senior officers to deal with Oireachtas committees were among €140,000 worth of PR services paid for by the taxpayer, writes Daniel McConnell.
In 2016, when allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe emerged, the spend by the force with the Communications Clinic, owned by Terry Prone, jumped from €10,400 to €92,995, according to figures obtained by the Irish Examiner.
Garda sources denied that the money primarily went on Ms O’Sullivan and senior officers, insisting it mainly went on training superintendents who deal with the media. However, senior officers who appear before Oireachtas committees do receive training in advance of hearings.
Catherine Murphy, the Social Democrats leader and Public Accounts Committee member, said it is a matter of significant coincidence that the amount spent would increase so much at a time of such crisis for the commissioner and the force.
Ms Murphy requested the figures amid a growing tendency of State employee witnesses appearing before the PAC to receive coaching ahead of giving evidence.
“I asked the question for the obvious reason: To see what coaching she had received before coming into us, and, as it has emerged, other witnesses have revealed they, too, have been coached or prepared before committee hearings,” she told the Irish Examiner.
“The committee appreciates and deserves candour from what are public servants.”
She said the tendency of some witnesses to be less open and frank in their answers had become a big issue for the committee.
“When witnesses are less than frank, we find we have to go back and reopen an issue, which wastes time and stops up from getting to other important issues,” said Ms Murphy. “It is incredibly frustrating.”
The amount paid by the force to the Communications Clinic and Carr Communications between 2014 and now is €137,626. Just €4,620 of the total amount went to Carr Communications, the figures reveal.
So far in 2017, €28,851 has been paid to the Communications Clinic.
In response to a parliamentary question from Ms Murphy, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said his officials spent €27,313 with the Communications Clinic between 2014 and 2016.
A written response from An Garda Síochána was requested, but was not forthcoming.
However, sources insist that the preparation for Oireachtas committees formed only a small part of the overall spend.