Big questions go unanswered in Garda penalty points scandal

Gardaí prolific at cancelling points will face no disciplinary action following Gsoc report

Gardaí operating a speed camera as part of a penalty points for speeding operation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Gardaí operating a speed camera as part of a penalty points for speeding operation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The latest report on the cancellation of penalty points by gardaí appears to bring the matter to a close.

The problem was perhaps not as widespread as had been initially believed, with no effort ever having been made to cancel 95 per cent of all fixed-charge notices issued.

In a force that reached 14,000 members at one point, 442 gardaí cancelled penalty points. That is perhaps a smaller number of gardaí than many would have expected.

Of the points cancelled, some were legitimate cancellations and the gardaí who cancelled them acted properly.

However, nobody knows how many of the 74,000 fixed-charge notices cancelled were legitimate and how many were not.

The charge of corruption in the force, made by whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe and some of the Dáil deputies who took up the scandal, has never been proven.

But that’s where the good news – if it can be called that – ends.

What we are left with is a picture of gardaí “squaring away” penalty points for motorists for no good reason. They were undermining the reputation of An Garda Síochána and the legal system, not to mention imperilling road safety.

At the end of repeated investigations and nine reports into the debacle, no gardaí will face discipline.

Even that small number who were most prolific at cancelling points – in one case 700 times across 17 counties – will face no consequences. That is the conclusion arrived at by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc).

Yesterday it issued a final report into its investigation, which has taken almost four years. It confirmed no disciplinary action would be pursued.

The reason? Disciplining so many Garda members would simply cost too much and take too long. And the records on which further investigations of individual gardaí would be based were poorly kept.

That meant the prospect of being able to discipline or prosecute anyone was slim.

System overhaul

A similar logic was outlined by Deputy Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin last week when he informed the Policing Authority that no gardaí would face sanction over the inflation of almost two million alcohol breath tests.

Gsoc said the overhaul of the penalty points system – whereby only a three-person Garda team would be able to cancel points – was now in place and working well.

The only Garda members against whom any action was taken, or warnings issued, were those identified after a probe into points cancellations led by assistant commissioner John O’Mahoney, which began in October 2012 and concluded in May 2013.

A total of 117 Garda members were identified for some form of action to be taken. Of those, two were found to be in breach of discipline. A file on one of them was sent to the DPP, which directed no prosecution should be taken. And the other member was placed on a temporary reduction in pay.

Some 50 Garda members were written to and advised to stay within policy.

And there was no further action taken against the remaining 65 Garda members of those 117 considered for follow-up action.

The report issued by Gsoc on Friday followed an extensive investigation.

Nine reports

In his capacity as minister for justice at the time, Alan Shatter asked Gsoc in January 2014 to examine the wrongful cancellation of penalty points.

And in September 2014, a second request was made to Gsoc by government.

By that time Mr Shatter had resigned, one of the casualties of the controversies flowing from Sgt McCabe’s allegations.

Mr Shatter was replaced by Frances Fitzgerald, to whom Sgt McCabe made a protected disclosure in late 2014.

He alleged that while procedures aimed at making it harder for gardaí to cancel points had been implemented, some members of the force were still behaving improperly.

The latest Gsoc report effectively arose from a combination of Mr Shatter’s and Ms Fitzgerald’s referrals in January and September of 2014 respectively. Both are now former ministers.

No corruption in An Garda Síochána has been proven and no further action is being taken against anyone.

And after nine reports into the penalty points issue we still do not know how many points were improperly cancelled.