Garda challenges still to be addressed

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 01:01

The penalty points controversy, with implications for Garda discipline, management and accountability rumbles on. Sgt Maurice McCabe, whose whistle-blowing activities led indirectly to the sudden retirement of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the resignation of minister for justice Alan Shatter, delivered further material to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission yesterday. It concerned drivers who may have had multiple penalty points notices cancelled improperly.

That there was significant abuse of the penalty points system is incontrovertible but its extent remains unclear. The Garda Inspectorate found no consistent management existed, at any level, which would have detected and rectified problems. The GSOC was asked by the former minister to investigate the termination of penalty points last February, but it is still awaiting a response from the Department of Justice to its request for increased resources and additional staff. Such foot-dragging could be expected in view of past strained relations, but it is an issue that requires immediate attention from Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

On a positive note, the decision by acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O Sullivan to arrange for regular meetings between Sgt McCabe and senior officers, to ensure he is not subjected to work-related intimidation, is a welcome development. Previous ill-treatment arising from his revelations concerning penalty point abuses was disgraceful. Additional allegations that 10 criminal cases were not properly investigated face a special commission of inquiry.

These controversies, which have shaken the Government and affected public confidence, have their roots in Garda reluctance to accept external oversight and accountability and in a refusal to acknowledge and correct abuses of the penalty points system. Reforms have been put in place. But a considerable distance remains to be travelled if the culture that gave rise to these difficulties is to change.