Flanagan warns of disciplinary action in Garda scandal
Minister for Justice says exaggerated breath tests ‘a bleak chapter’ for gardaí
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said there had been “an unacceptable litany of instances of very bad behaviour on the part of the gardaí”. Photograph: PA.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said disciplinary action will be taken where evidence of wrongdoing is found in the Garda breath test scandal.
His comments come after the Policing Authority released its independent review of the falsification of figures and advised the scale of the discrepancy was higher than previously thought.
“Yesterday’s report once again underlines what has been a particularly bleak chapter in An Garda Síochána,” Mr Flanagan said on Thursday.
“An unacceptable catalogue of major deficiencies and an unacceptable litany of instances of very bad behaviour on the part of the gardaí.
“There is a process underway under assistant commissioner Michael Finn where he will assess the situation as far as responsibility is concerned.”
Mr Flanagan said he agreed with the chair of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily that this was an issue that needed to be pursued.
He said he understood the Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin would report to the Policing Authority on that process before the end of November.
“And yes it is very important that where there is evidence of wrongdoing that there would be certain culpability in that regard and that there would be a process to ensure that disciplinary action will be taken.”
Mr Flanagan was speaking at a press conference in Dublin.
Meanwhile, the president of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, Noel Cunningham, has admitted gardaí did not expect breath test statistics to be checked.
He told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme that “dishonesty” was an “unfortunate” word to use in terms of policing.
He insisted dishonesty was not endemic within the force and there was not a culture of doing wrong.
He admitted members had been careless and had made “guesstimates”. He said it was a supervisory issue and if the proper supervision had been in place this would not have happened. “Unfortunately things became loose.”
Supt Cunningham also said there were flaws in the system for recording checkpoints and breath tests.
He welcomed reports carried out into the issue and the fact that they recognised changes were necessary. “We need to look at how this is going to happen and how this is going to be resourced.
“This is going to take a significant amount of work. The questions are what resources, what changes, what packages, what improvements in the IT system and what training programmes are going to be put in place?
“These all need to be identified to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Supt Cunningham pointed out the report said no member of An Garda Síochána has benefitted in any way financially or through promotional prospects because of the inflated figures.
He said there was not sufficient support to check that the actions of gardaí were accurate. “I’m not excusing what happened. I’m not excusing any misbehaviour,” he added.
Separately, Fianna Fáil’s Justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan said he would be careful about putting politicians on the Policing Authority.
“The objective of the Policing Authority is to ensure that the Garda is properly managed and to ensure that recommendations brought in are being effective.
“Politicians have an opportunity to voice their concern in the Oireachtas. There is a need for objective, non-partial political assessment of An Garda Siochana,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Mr O’Callaghan maintained the main problem within the Garda was supervision and management.
“The problem that lies at the heart of An Garda Síochána is with supervision and management. There’s a failure of supervision and the management isn’t effective enough. We’ve simply got to change it.”
He said the process of trying to reform and change the culture in the force had begun.
“We need to move forward and make sure controversies such as the breath test scandal do not happen again.”
He said there was not a lot to be gained by revoking a deal on Garda pay agreed last year as to do so would cause industrial relations chaos.
Mr O’Callaghan called for the Policing Authority to be given more power and said he was proposing legislation that would compel the Garda Commissioner to keep the authority informed of any internal audits and reports.
One of the problems, he added, was that the Policing Authority was only informed in January of the problem with false breath tests, when it should have been informed in 2015.
“If I was Justice Minister I would have dealt with this matter back in March 2017.
“If I had been Minister I would have recommended the removal of the Garda Commissioner, that was the only power that the government had in respect of that to ensure there was accountability.”