Points and principles

Fri, Apr 12, 2013, 08:59

There is a clear distinction between corruption and administrative abuse. A Garda Síochána report into a practice whereby, on application from knowledgeable individuals, members of the force could extinguish penalty points imposed for driving offences is based upon it. The inquiry identified no corruption or criminal acts but found that some gardaí had been “too liberal” in responding to such requests or had not followed procedures in doing so. Disciplinary action may follow.

Where discretionary powers exist, there is always the possibility of abuse. That does not mean discretion should be removed. Special cases will arise where its application is fully justified. But they must be special cases and the exercise of discretion by a garda should be formally justified and logged in the official database.

The release of information by two Garda whistleblowers on the widespread abuse of these powers led to the inquiry. Details of thousands of cases were released to Independent Dáil TDs and allegations were made that penalty points had been removed for prominent individuals without valid cause. The inquiry found that no reward, monetary or otherwise, had been involved. At the time, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter appeared more concerned about the release of various names than the complained-of practice.

Residual politically-influenced behaviour with its cute-hoor, who-you-know, approach should be fully purged. A minister drinking in an after-hours pub would no longer dare ask the question: “Well Garda, do you want a pint, or a transfer?” Similarly, requesting an undeserved concession from a senior officer, even if no financial inducement is involved, is not acceptable. That practice developed within a system in which court judgments were sometimes altered by ministers for justice in response to political pressure. Equality of treatment in a modern democracy is as important as equality of opportunity. The sooner the necessary administrative changes are made to ensure such outcomes under the law, the better.