Paying the penalty
Senior gardaí are unlikely to be held accountable for the improper cancellation of fixed charge notices, involving fines and penalty points, mainly for speeding offences. Reluctance and delay have marked the official response to an allegation that up to 50,000 notices were quashed over a three-year period and there has been an obvious attempt to minimise the issue.
If notices were wrongly quashed, however, they should at least be reactivated.
Public confidence in the application of the penalty points system lies at the heart of this controversy. A whistle-blowing garda sergeant raised concerns with his superiors and with State agencies and Independent TDs in the autumn. But an internal Garda investigation was ordered only after the Departments of the Taoiseach and of Transport and Tourism formally raised the matter with the Department of Justice. An interim report has been supplied to the Minister, Alan Shatter, and a final report will become available in January.
Mr Shatter has cautioned against jumping to conclusions and emphasised there were many valid reasons why fixed charge notices should be quashed. So there are. And rightly so. Gardaí should be capable of responding in a reasonable and flexible fashion to mistakes and special circumstances. But strict control and oversight are required. The concern, in this instance, is that some prominent and well-informed individuals took advantage of the system to demand and receive special treatment.
The original allegation involving 50,000 notices was, following a preliminary Garda investigation, reduced to fewer than 200 cases where “inappropriate cancellations” may have taken place. The Minister said he would speak to the Garda Commissioner if new procedural arrangements were required. If this form of backstairs justice was being treated as a really serious matter, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission would have been asked to investigate. Instead, there are echoes from the bad old days.