Statement by Shatter on whistleblowers

Better efforts should have been made to engage with whistleblowers, says Shatter

Beter efforts could and should have been made to secure productive engagement of whistleblowers, says Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien /The Irish Times

Beter efforts could and should have been made to secure productive engagement of whistleblowers, says Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien /The Irish Times

Wed, Mar 26, 2014, 16:44

Full text of statement by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter on whistleblower controversy, given in the Dáil on Thursday, 26th March .

I want to begin by addressing a matter of substantial importance. On October 1st 2013 in a topical issue debate on the penalty points issue I made a statement that the whistleblowers did not cooperate with the garda investigations that took place in respect of their allegations.

I appreciate that this statement has been the source of some upset and distress to the whistleblowers. I have looked again at the information provided to me and considered the matter in detail.

I previously stated on the Dáil record that I expected that Sgt McCabe would be interviewed during the course of the O’Mahoney investigation and I note that he fully engaged with the Garda Inspectorate in the work undertaken by them to prepare the report which is the subject matter of today’s debate.

I want to say very clearly that, having re-examined the facts and further considered the matter, I believe more should have been done during the course of the O’Mahoney investigation to obtain information from and ascertain the views and experiences of the whistleblowers. Further and better efforts could and should have been made to secure productive engagement with them in the investigation of their claims.

I therefore wish to correct the record of this House that the whistleblowers “did not cooperate with the garda investigations that took place”. I acknowledge that this statement was incorrect. It was never my intention to mislead the House and I believe it is appropriate that I apologise to both and withdraw the statements made. It was never my intention to cause any upset and if any upset was caused I hope that my correcting the record of the Dail today will put this matter to rest. In doing so, I again acknowledge, as I have done many times previously that the reports published and the findings and recommendations that have been made with regard to the fixed notice charge system and penalty points are in response to the allegations made by Sgt McCabe and supported by former Garda Wilson.

I am aware that the whistleblowers and others have issues with some remarks I made outside this House. It was not my intention to misrepresent any matter connected with this issue. I apologise for any offence that may have been caused by any other remarks made by me. There are issues of importance that I have to properly address as Minister for Justice and there are important matters outstanding which I hope will be finally resolved upon GSOC completing its investigation and publishing its report.

I welcome the fact that the House today has made time to discuss the Garda Inspectorate Report on the Fixed Charge Processing System.

I commissioned that report on 14th May 2013 and I did so as part of a series of measures to make sure not only that the whistleblower allegations were properly addressed but that any other problems with the Fixed Charge Processing System would also be tackled. Prior to that, in September 2012, detailed allegations were received by my Department from both the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Transport relating to the Fixed Charge Processing System. In October 2012, having considered these allegations I initially furnished them to the Garda Commissioner for his response. I believed this was the appropriate initial step and it resulted in an investigation led by Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney and the administration of the Fixed Charge Processing System being examined by the Garda Professional Standards Unit (PSU). In the context of the O’Mahoney led investigation, the particular notices subject to allegations by Sergeant McCabe examined and also a random further 1% of Fixed Charge Notice terminations were also examined. I published both the report of Assistant Commissioner O’Mahoney and the PSU report on 15 May 2013 and referred both reports to the Joint Oireachtas Justice Committee for the Committees consideration. As already mentioned, the day before their publication I referred them also to the Garda Inspectorate, who perform an independent statutory role, and subsequently agreed with the Inspectorate broad terms of reference to facilitate the Inspectorate conducting a comprehensive examination of the Fixed Charge Processing System to enable it to make all necessary recommendations to ensure its proper administration.

It was my view at all times, and it remains my view today, that any use of Garda discretion to effect the termination of Fixed Charge Notices must be applied in a fair, impartial and transparent manner and, on the 15th May 2013, I published 7 crucial applicable principles to ensure this. They are as follows:

1. There must be no question mark hanging over the integrity of the Fixed Charge Notice system and in the application of penalty points.

2. No individual should receive preferential treatment because of their perceived status, relationship or celebrity.

3. The law and any discretionary application of it to individuals must be administered fairly, with compassion and common sense.

4. No member of the Garda Force should feel compelled by a person’s position, relationship or celebrity status to treat that person any more or less favourably than any other person.

5. There must be proper oversight and transparency to the discretionary decision making process and the applicable rules and procedures must be fully complied with.

6. All statutory provisions, regulations, rules, protocols and procedures applicable to the termination of Fixed Charge Notices must be readily accessible to all members of the Garda Force and the circumstances, factors and procedures applicable to the termination of Fixed Charge Notices should be detailed clearly on the Garda website for the information of members of the public.

7. Where application is made to terminate a fixed ticket charge, where possible and appropriate, material to support any application made should be sought while understanding in some circumstances no such material may exist or be obtainable.

These principles were applied by the Garda Inspectorate and they are detailed in the Appendix to their Report.

I note that, at the time of publication of both the O’Mahoney Report and the PSU report, Deputy Niall Collins informed this House that he had no issue with the two reports. Deputy Collins stated “In the first instance, I will refer to the two reports that were published last week regarding penalty points and the allegations of erasing penalty points. We have no issue with those reports. We welcome the finding that there was no corruption’.

I believe that, on the facts as I have outlined them, any objective observer would conclude that I took all the allegations made seriously and that speedy and appropriate action was taken to address them.

I think it is obvious that if I had ignored the allegations made there would have been no O’Mahoney Report, no PSU Report and we would not today be discussing the Garda Inspectorate Report.

If I had ignored the allegations made the changes effected to improve the management and administration of the system and to provide for more regular auditing would not have been put in place after the 15th May last and prior to the publication of the Garda Inspectorates report.

If I had ignored the allegations made, I would not have asked for the comprehensive examination undertaken by the Garda Inspectorate, whose terms of reference addressed issues that were additional to those addressed in the O’Mahoney Report, and I would not have recommended to Government that the 37 recommendations contained in the Garda Inspectorate report be accepted and steps taken to implement them nor would I have published an Action Plan to bring about their implementation.

If I had not taken the allegations seriously, the Criminal Justice Working Group which the Inspectorate recommended be established to oversee implementation of the changes required, would not have met the day immediately following publication of the Inspectorates report. It should be noted that, in a slight variation of the Inspectorates recommendation, rather than the group being solely chaired by an official from my Department, I proposed and it was agreed, that the Group would, in fact, be co-chaired by my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and I believe that is in the public interest as each Department has a separate and complimentary role on dealing with road traffic issues. I am pleased to also note that the DPP has now agreed to be represented on the group.