Gardaí express concerns over drug-testing training

Only 72 members of An Garda Síochána have been trained in the operation of new devices

A model demonstrates An Garda Síochána’s new drug-testing device. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A model demonstrates An Garda Síochána’s new drug-testing device. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Senior gardaí have expressed concerns over the fact that, to date, just 72 members of the force have been trained in the operation of new roadside drug-testing machines.

Sources also indicated that, of the 72, approximately 30 are full-time trainers who were unlikely to be involved in actual roadside testing for drug-driving.

The drug-driving provisions within the Road Traffic Act, 2016, came into force on Thursday.

They allow gardaí to use the machines to carry out preliminary tests on those suspected of driving under the influence of illicit substances.

Commenting on the level of training to date, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said that so far only a small number of people in An Garda Síochána had been trained to operate the new equipment.

“I understand there have been a small number of people across the organisation trained, but it’s very small in the grand scheme of things,” AGSI general secretary John Jacob told The Irish Times.

A Garda spokesman confirmed the Garda National Roads Policing Bureau was in consultation with the Garda College to expand the training.

“A small number of personnel . . . both instructors and operational personnel, have already received training in the use of these devices,” the spokesman said.

“Only personnel who have received this training will utilise the devices at this time.

“Training will be provided to all personnel who require same over the coming months.”

Gardaí anticipate the majority of the Garda Traffic Corps will have completed the training by the end of this month, while other personnel will have finished the initial training phase by the end of May.

Training programme

The AGSI has called on Garda management to implement the training programmes as quickly as possible.

It added that gardaí were already fully trained in conducting roadside assessments without the new machines and those suspected of driving under the influence of drugs could still be prosecuted under existing laws.

Eighty-six drug-screening devices will be divided among and located in Garda stations across the country and another 50 will be available for use at the roadside.

The number of devices located roadside is due to rise to 150.

Based on saliva samples, the machines can test for the presence of several prescription and illicit drugs - including cannabis, cocaine and heroin.

A follow-up test would confirm whether a driver was over a prescribed limit.

“I am aware that we have roadside impairment testing and that evidence can be given in court,” said Mr Jacob.

“What this [new technology] can do is put the guard’s assessment beyond a reasonable doubt and secure a conviction.

“Without a definitive test . . . there is more of a likelihood that people will challenge roadside impairment assessments.”

The new powers mean gardaí can now establish roadside Mandatory Impairment Checkpoints (MIT), to test drivers for the presence of both alcohol and drugs.