Commissioner says no evidence of gardaí doing ‘favours’ for family or friends

Callinan defends use of discretionary powers

 Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan arriving in Leinster House yesterday to attend the sitting of the Public Accounts Committee. Photograph: David Sleator

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan arriving in Leinster House yesterday to attend the sitting of the Public Accounts Committee. Photograph: David Sleator

Fri, Jan 24, 2014, 01:00

Seven family members of gardaí had fixed charge notices cancelled, an internal investigation into the penalty points controversy discovered. However, none was cancelled by the Garda relative in question.

Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney gave details of the cancellations at the Public Accounts Committee as both he and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan were questioned about the integrity of the penalty points system.

Mr Callinan agreed with deputies that it would be wrong for any garda to cancel a family member’s penalty points, and he said there was no evidence that “favours” had been rendered to families or friends of gardaí. He added he did not subscribe to the view that you could get penalty points cancelled “because of who you are in society”.

Right to appeal
However, he said any citizen, whether “a politician, a sports person, a dignitary or VIP”, had a right to appeal against a fine to an authorised officer if they had a genuine reason.

He cited the example of a man who was engaged in voluntary work and had been called home by his wife because bees on his farm were “out of control” and “worrying livestock”.

He was caught speeding at 9km/h over the speed limit and had never transgressed before over the years; an officer took the view the fine merited cancellation. Fine Gael TD Simon Harris said he understood the need for such discretion but put it to him that if the same man had been caught speeding again wouldn’t it be wrong to cancel his fine.

“You won’t find any argument with me on that,” the commissioner replied.

In opening exchanges with Labour TD Derek Nolan, the commissioner conceded he was “not happy with some of the issues that have been highlighted” but the system overall was operating well.

The Garda had carried out an audit on how it was dealing with penalty points cancellations. Some 24 stations had been visited, and five divisions inspected and “in all areas there is 100 per cent compliance . . . Does it prove the fixes are now working? Let’s hope so.” He said, “all policies and procedures” associated with the fixed charges penalty notice system had been revised through an updated user manual. “This manual has been forwarded to the Garda Inspectorate and the DPP for their observations”, and a summary would be made public.

Improved tracking
Among the improvements were better auditing of notebooks to ensure they could be produced in evidence and improved tracking on the Pulse system to detect whether particular individuals or families had enjoyed numerous penalty points cancellations.

He defended the use of discretionary powers which had traditionally served the force well and was “an intrinsic feature of good policing”.