Cabinet to set up external review of Garda controversies

Fitzgerald to provide statement to Dáil this evening on breath tests and FCN issues

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at a press conference in Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

 

An external investigation is to be carried out into the Garda controversies involving the apparent falsifying of breath test results and the wrongful conviction of almost 15,000 due to issues with the fixed charge penalty system.

The decision was announced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil after the Cabinet was briefed by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald on the controversy and her meeting with Garda Commissioner Noirín O’ Sullivan.

Following a meeting of the Dail business committee, Ms Fitzgerald is now dealing with the issue on the floor of the House.

The Tanáiste first outlined a 15-minute statement, with all Opposition groups now giving 10 minutes each – which includes a question and answer session.

Mr Kenny said the Government continued to have confidence in Ms O’Sullivan but that the public concern about what was happening was so profound it was also time to conduct “a thorough, comprehensive and independent, root and branch review’’ of the force.

He said such a proposal should have the support of the Oireachtas and he proposed to consult the Opposition parties and have it ultimately approved by the Oireachtas.

Mr Kenny said there was “a list of unacceptable revelations about the operations of An Garda Síochana ‘’.

Ms O’Sullivan is facing calls to step down from Fianna Fail, Sinn Féin and Labour after it emerged that almost a million breath tests recorded as being performed by gardaí between 2012 and 2016 never actually took place.

It has also emerged 14,700 motorists were convicted after they were wrongly summonsed to court.

Public appearances

Fine Gael Ministers on Monday night had expressed support for Ms O’Sullivan after a number of public appearances on Monday in which she attempted to address the latest scandal to affect the force.

A key point of contention is that Ms O’Sullivan has not yet provided an explanation of how or why the incorrect recording of tests took place. Ms O’Sullivan said an internal Garda investigation would attempt to ascertain the facts of the matter.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin on Tuesday said it is not enough for the commissioner to step down and that there was a need for a fundamental change in Garda management.

He said the breath rest discrepancies were either deliberate or there were one million mistakes.

“Either way it was a monumental cock-up that someone has to take responsibility for,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Howlin also called for a more robust response from the Police Authority, which he felt needed “more teeth”. Ms O’Sullivan is expected to appear before the Oireachtas Justice Committee this week.

On Tuesday Fianna Fáil again refused to back Ms O’Sullivan amid the fallout from gross exaggeration of drink-driving tests and wrongful convictions for road offences.

Party justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said: “We are clear in our view that following the ongoing failure to explain the circumstances of the massive discrepancies that have emerged within the force, or to assign responsibility for this, we are unfortunately not in a position to express confidence in the Garda Commissioner.”

Earlier Mr O’Callaghan said “There are still no answers or explanations. No one has explained how 937,000 false breath tests were included in the Pulse system,” he said, speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

While Mr O’Callaghan said there were likely to be “many reasons” for the 937,000 breath tests that never happened, there were likely to be a “couple of dominant” reasons for the discrepancies and that Ms O’Sullivan should give an indication of what they are.

He also said that he would be advising his party colleagues not to support the Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in the commissioner. The motion is due to be taken on April 12th.

Numerous party Fianna Fáil TDs said they did not believe Ms O’Sullivan should remain in position much longer but stressed they would not follow a Sinn Féin lead.

Policing Authority

In a statement on Tuesday evening from the Policing Authority, which met on Monday to discuss the controversy over breath testing and wrongful prosecutions, “the authority again expressed its disappointment at not being advised in a timely manner that an audit into the breath test issues was underway.

“Despite questioning over several months, the authority has not yet been provided with the full internal reports or indeed a clear sense of how these matters have been handled to date within the Garda Síochána or the status and content of the audits which have been undertaken.

“The authority considered the correspondence received from the Garda Commissioner on Friday (March 24th) in which the Commissioner requested that the authority refer a number of matters to the Garda Inspectorate.

“In this context the authority took the following decisions, which were conveyed to the Garda Commissioner yesterday:

“– it concluded that, in the absence of the data requested, it is premature to decide at this time whether there is value in asking the Garda Inspectorate to conduct the type of inspection requested;

“– it requested that by the end of this week (March 31st) further information be provided by the Garda Síochána on a range of matters to facilitate the authority’s further consideration of this matter. This includes a copy of all existing reports, including audits or examinations on both matters

“– to assist it in identifying gaps and because they were not entirely clear, the authority asked for details from the Garda Commissioner of the examination proposed to be undertaken by an Assistant Commissioner and internal audit and the timelines for their completion.

“The importance of supplying this additional information in a timely manner was emphasised to the Garda Commissioner.”

“Separately, the Policing Authority decided as a first step to engage expertise to assist it in conducting a quality assurance review on of the remedial actions taken in 2016 to help restore confidence in Garda data.”

Discrepancy

Meanwhile, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety said it first alerted the Garda about the discrepancy between reported breath tests and the actual number of tests in July 2014.

On Tuesday, Prof Denis Cusack of bureau said it became aware of the issue when extra mouth pieces for the breathalyser devices were not ordered.

Each test requires a new mouth piece and the bureau works with a Garda central stock depot to supply the pre-packaged equipment to Garda stations around the country.

“We noticed the numbers being reported on the Garda website and we knew the numbers of mouth pieces left. The numbers didn’t add up. We alerted the gardaí that the numbers were not adding up,” Prof Cusack said.

Subsequently the bureau received a letter from gardaí saying new mouth pieces were not needed, he said. In 2015 Prof Cusack raised the issue of the numbers again, on foot of an article about the number of breath tests being carried out.

He said the gardaí then carried out an audit and earlier this month asked the bureau to share its information on the number of mouth pieces issued, which the bureau was happy to do, he said.