Breath-test accountability key to public trust in Garda – Flanagan

Minister for Justice stands by call for discipline to be taken against individual members

Minster for Justice Charlie Flanagan speaking to a garda at Hotel Minella, Clonmel, where the Fine Gael think-in was taking place at the weekend ahead of the resumption of the Dáil next week. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minster for Justice Charlie Flanagan speaking to a garda at Hotel Minella, Clonmel, where the Fine Gael think-in was taking place at the weekend ahead of the resumption of the Dáil next week. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Public trust will not be restored in An Garda Síochána unless there is accountability for the breath test controversy, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said.

Mr Flanagan was speaking after Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan downplayed the prospect of individual sanctions for members of the gardaí found to have exaggerated the number of breath tests they carried out.

Mr O’Callaghan said the Government should focus on ensuring the public get accurate information rather than sanctioning a large number of gardaí.

However, the Minister for Justice insisted accountability was necessary to ensure the mistakes are not repeated and confidence in the force is restored.

Mr Flanagan and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have called for both senior management and rank-and-file members to face disciplinary proceedings if found to have engaged in exaggerating numbers of tests.

An internal Garda report found 1.45 million breath tests were falsely claimed over a seven-year period. The review found it was a widespread practice that occurred in every Garda district.

A separate report by the Policing Authority into the same issue is to completed within weeks.

Wrongful convictions

Consultants Crowe Horwath are preparing two reports for the authority - one on the inflated number of breath tests and one on the wrongful convictions of about 15,000 motorists under the motoring fixed-charge notice system.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said his party would not object to the salary of the Garda Commissioner being increased.

Former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan resigned a week ago after relentless pressure on her position.

The Policing Authority will conduct a process to find her replacement, but concerns over the salary have been raised. The commissioner is currently paid €180,613.

Speaking on Newstalk radio on Sunday, Mr Martin said the recruitment process should be broad and international.

He questioned whether the authority had the ability to headhunt high-quality individuals.

Asked whether he would object to a member of An Garda Síochána becoming commissioner, Mr Martin said he had no preference as to whether it was an external candidate or an insider.

Meanwhile, the Commission on the Future of Policing lost a member yesterday after Conor Brady, formerly editor of The Irish Times, resigned from his role.

‘Lack of support’

Mr Brady said he made the decision due to what he called the “lack of interest and support for the work of the commission among the political establishment”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar declined to comment on Mr Brady’s resignation but insisted the Government was fully supportive of the commission’s work.

He told The Irish Times: “The whole idea of the Commission on the Future of Policing is that they would make recommendations, and once those recommendations are made the Government would be behind them and try to implement them, so I think that perhaps to resign before any recommendations have been made – you know the test of whether there is political will to reform the gardaí is surely whether we’re willing to implement the recommendations of the commission. Which so far has made none.”

He added: “We’d be very open to the commission making interim recommendations. They don’t have to wait until they’ve completed their report.”