Gardaí under pressure to publish breath test report

Up to one in 10 Garda records on alcohol breath testing checkpoints were inflated

More than one million breath  tests that were recorded on the Garda’s PULSE database never actually took place. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

More than one million breath tests that were recorded on the Garda’s PULSE database never actually took place. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Up to one in 10 Garda records on alcohol breath testing checkpoints were inflated and investigations will be conducted and action taken against the gardaí responsible, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said.

He added it was his understanding Garda Headquarters would this afternoon publish its report on the debacle.

However, The Irish Times understands the Garda had not intended to release its report today but may now be forced to.

Mr Flanagan, in a statement issued this afternoon, said he was “greatly disturbed” by the fact that between 3 and 9 per cent of alcohol breath tests entered by Garda members on the force’s computerised database PULSE were inflated.

And he said cases would be investigated within the Garda.

This represents the first time the Government has indicated it wants the Garda members responsible for inflating the tests investigated.

It is likely to cause considerable controversy and meet with strong opposition from the Garda representative bodies who have claimed the inflating of breath tests was down to cultural issues rather than wrongdoing or corruption by individual members of the force.

Mr Flanagan said that last Thursday he received the Garda’s reports into both the inflating of alcohol breath tests and the separate issues of motorists being wrongly prosecuted for road traffic offences.

“I note that any potential such cases identified in this report have been referred to the relevant regional offices for further investigation and sanction where appropriate. This is critically important,” he said.

“Enormous responsibility and great trust is vested in An Garda Síochána and it is therefore vital that members of the force discharge their duties with professionalism and integrity.

“The reports identify serious and concerning problems in the operation of both the Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoint system and the Fixed Charge Processing System.

“Both reports indicate that An Garda Síochána has already put a range of measures in place to address issues around data collection and recording and the operation of both the MATS and FCPS systems.”

Mr Flanagan noted the report on the fixed charge processing system, under which errors were made that resulted in prosecutions being wrongly pursued against motorists, had identified “technical and training or guidance problems”.

He added that report concluded that IT fixes already applied to the problems that arose, such as summonses being wrongly sent to motorists, had been successful of late.

Mr Flanagan looked forward to further improvements to the fixed charge notice, or penalty points system, being put in place when a Policing Authority report into the matter was completed and published.

In the case of the driver breath testing, or mandatory alcohol tests (MATs); the number of drivers tested has been grossly inflated by the Garda.

It means more than one million tests that were recorded on the Garda’s PULSE database never actually took place. Instead, the records document fictitious tests since 2009, offering a completely bogus account of how active the Garda was in clamping down on drink drivers.

Separately, the problems with the fixed charge notice system arose in a number of areas.

Some motorists detected committing motoring offences should have been sent a notice in the postal service and been given the opportunity to deal with the matter by way of fine and accepting penalty points.

Those motorists should only have been summoned to court if they failed to pay the fine.

However, in thousands of cases motorists never got the opportunity to pay their fines. Instead, their cases proceeded to the summonses stage immediately.

And in other cases, even when motorists received a fines notice in the postal service and paid it they were still summonsed to appear in court.

When the matter came to light in March, the Garda said a total of 146,865 summonses had been sent out in error in that way since the fixed charge notice system began in 2006.

Of those, around 10 per cent were wrongly convicted in court. All of those convictions must now be appealed by the Garda.

The reports in the debacles, and which were received by Mr Flanagan last Thursday, have been carried out by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan.