Gardaí face sanctions over falsifying breath tests

Extra 1.5m tests reported: gardaí ‘made up’ some, human error to blame in others

Breath-test statistics: gardaí said they did almost 3.4m drink-driving checks between July 2009 and the end of 2016; the true figure was about 1.8m. File photograph: John Giles/PA

Breath-test statistics: gardaí said they did almost 3.4m drink-driving checks between July 2009 and the end of 2016; the true figure was about 1.8m. File photograph: John Giles/PA

 

An internal Garda investigation into the falsification of breathalyser figures has found that disciplinary action may have to be taken against a number of gardaí after the force wrongly claimed to have checked an extra 1.5 million drivers over a seven-year period.

The Irish Times understands that gardaí said they had carried out almost 3.4 million breath tests to catch drink-drivers between July 2009 and the end of 2016 when the true figure was about 1.8 million.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan received the investigation’s report on Thursday, along with the results of a second investigation commissioned by An Garda Síochána, into the wrongful conviction of 14,500 drivers for motoring offences.

The investigations, headed by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, have found three key reasons for the fake breathalyser figures. In a significant number of cases gardaí simply made the numbers up, he reported. In others, administrative mistakes linked to the Garda’s Pulse computer system, or data-input errors connected to its information-services centre, in Castlebar, were to blame.

It is understood the breath-test report does not specify how many gardaí may face sanction, and neither report directly criticises senior Garda management.

Flanagan declines to comment

Mr Flanagan declined to comment on the content of the documents, which he received a month later than expected. “I welcome the early completion of these reports, and I will be carefully considering the analysis and recommendations therein,” he said. The Minister is expected to brief Taoiseach Leo Varadkar next week.

The Irish Times first reported in February that the number of tests recorded on the Pulse system did not match the number of motorists checked. The following month it emerged that breathalyser figures had been grossly exaggerated for years. Garda statistics had indicated that almost two million breath tests were carried out between late 2011 and 2016, but breathalyser data indicated the true figure was only half that.

Between July 2009 and late 2011, the investigation has found, Garda statistics showing just under 1.4 million breath tests had been exaggerated by 500,000.

Mr Flanagan, who is also expecting the findings of a separate assessment of the figures by the Policing Authority, said that the Garda reports will be published in due course.

He and the authority raised concerns last month about the delay in receiving the findings of the Garda investigations. Fianna Fáil has said that the failure to disclose the reasons for the breathalyser figures’ inaccuracy is undermining confidence in the force.

The Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, is due to resume work on Monday after a five-week leave of absence. The Government has reiterated its full confidence in her but has yet to comment on reports that she was being considered for a senior position at Europol, the European law enforcement agency.

It is not known if the commissioner was briefed on the findings of the two internal Garda reports.