Allegations of widespread Garda corruption on penalty points dimissed in new report

Minister for Justice says whistleblowers were wrong in fact or had incomplete facts

Justice Minister Alan Shatter speaking to the media at a press conference on the subject of allegations of improper cancellation of penalty points.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Justice Minister Alan Shatter speaking to the media at a press conference on the subject of allegations of improper cancellation of penalty points. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Thu, May 16, 2013, 10:25

Allegations of widespread corruption in the Garda over the cancellation of thousands of penalty points for no apparent genuine reason have been dismissed in a high-level Garda report.

However a Garda superintendent and two inspectors are being disciplined after they were found to have terminated points in 661 cases. In at least some of these cases the proper procedures were not followed.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is this morning due to appear before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, where he will address matters relating to the Garda budget but is also likely to be quizzed on the penalty points controversy.

Separate investigation
The comptroller and auditor general at the end of February began a separate investigation into the matter.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said that while he was relieved the report did not support the substantive allegations by two Garda whistleblowers claiming a widespread culture of corruption in the force, he was concerned with some of the findings of the report issued yesterday. “I am concerned that decisions made in a small minority of instances in which fixed-charge notices were terminated defy logic and common sense, albeit the correct procedures were complied with.”

However, Mr Shatter reserved stinging criticism for the two Garda whistleblowers, at the rank of sergeant, who passed the allegations on to the Department of Justice, which referred the matter to the Garda last year.

He said while whistleblowers must feel supported, they also had responsibilities. While no whistleblower could be expected to have “every minor detail right” there must be substance to their allegations.

“However, even allowing that latitude in this case, it is a matter of concern that the allegations made by this Garda whistleblower were in many instances seriously inaccurate and without any foundation in fact, or else involved an incomplete understanding of the facts.”

Fatal collisions
The report detailed nine cases in which the whistleblowers alleged motorists involved in fatal collisions had had points terminated. However, these were all found to be factually incorrect or points had been terminated for a sound legal reason, such as having been issued in duplicate so necessitating one set to be removed.

Mr Shatter has asked the Joint Oireachtas Justice, Defence and Equality committee to review the report and hold oral hearings into the matter if it sees fit. He has also requested the Garda Inspectorate, an independent agency that advises the Garda on reform, to oversee the implementation of a number of recommendations arising from the controversy.

Road safety
The commissioner said his force was fully committed to enforcing road safety. “I am confident [the] recommendations together with any other supplementary recommendations that may be suggested by the Garda Inspectorate should provide sufficiently robust assurances with regard to the integrity of the system.”

The report published yesterday was the result of an examination conducted by assistant commissioner John O’Mahoney. He was asked on October 31st last by the commissioner to investigate the allegations of the two whistleblowers.

Under O’Mahoney, a team of senior officers examined the allegations made by the whistleblowers and concluded there were a total of 189 separate allegations, covering a total of 2,198 cancellations of points between January 1st 2009 and June 30th 2012.

The investigation found no evidence to suggest criminality, corruption, deception or the falsification of records where penalty points were being terminated. However, it recommended that three members of the force – a superintendent and two inspectors – be disciplined.

Points quashed
When the 661 cases where penalty points had been quashed to which they were connected are removed from the number of points’ terminations raised by whistleblowers, 1,537 cases remain.

Of these, 87 per cent (1,339 cases) were found to have complied with the “correct administrative procedures. The remaining 13 per cent, or 198 cancellations, were found “not to have been strictly within administrative procedures”.

However, this rate of failure to comply was only marginally higher than the results of a random audit by the Garda team of all 67,000 cancellations during the review period, but which were not at the centre of the allegations raised by the whistleblowers.

In the random sample, some 11 per cent of cancellations did not comply fully with procedures, though no sinister or deliberate motive was attached to that. l l l l l l