Gardaí in Kerry have the best record on false breath tests

County saw a 9% inflation of breath-testing figures, against 385% in Tipperary

A Garda with a breathalyser. The Kerry Garda division checks the calibration of its breathalysers every four to five months. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

A Garda with a breathalyser. The Kerry Garda division checks the calibration of its breathalysers every four to five months. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Few Garda divisions emerge with any credit from the false Garda breath test numbers debacle, but Kerry has the best record – a 9 per cent inflation on the real numbers over seven years, compared with 385 per cent in Tipperary, for example.

Forensic accountants hired by the independent Policing Authority spent Wednesday investigating records held on breath tests in Garda stations in Kerry.

Locally, gardaí are not surprised that they have the lowest “discrepancy”, since they argue they never focused on the numbers of tests carried out, but rather the number of drink-drivers caught.

The explanations vary. Kerry has one of the oldest groups of sergeants and inspectors in the country and most of them have been based in the county for a long time.

Each of the three districts in Kerry – Listowel, Tralee, and Killarney (which now includes the former fourth division of Cahersiveen) is managed by a superintendent and a corps of sergeants.

Calibration

Sergeants are key to overseeing the calibration of the breath-testing devices, taking them to Dublin every four to five months to make sure they are calibrated properly.

“We check them rigorously,” a Killarney sergeant told The Irish Times. “I don’t ever push people for numbers and a lot of my colleagues never got into that game.”

Checkpoints are a deterrent in themselves, even if no one was tested, said one officer, adding that he always drove this message home to younger gardaí if they returned to the station feeling that they had not done enough.

Indeed, he said a red flag would go up in his mind if young gardaí came back from what the sergeant knew was a quiet road and said they had breath-tested dozens.

Besides having older sergeants and inspectors, Kerry has had few probationer gardaí until recently: “We have the same old dogs here a long time and they wouldn’t tolerate bad behaviour,” another senior garda said.

“Our priority [in the traffic division] has long been to target drink-drivers, not how many checkpoints we have,” said Insp Tony Sugrue, the inspector in charge of the traffic division in Kerry.

However, too many people now think they can get away with gambling with drink-driving, said Insp Sugrue, who said 28 people were caught last Christmas, up from 20 the year before.

Kerry had five sergeants and 29 gardaí in the traffic division in 2008. “I now have two sergeants, a part-time inspector and on paper 10 gardaí, two of whom are on lighter duties. We have three units. Realistically we should have four,” said Insp Sugrue.

Some traffic division sergeants moved to other duties such as court work have not been replaced, he said. “Supervision for MIT [mandatory intoxication testing] is crucial, especially for probationers.”