Gardaí were ‘told to elevate figures’ by senior officers, GRA claims

Rank and file gardaí say they won’t be ‘scapegoated’ for breath tests debacle

In an awkward interview with RTE News, Garda Representative Association (GRA)spokesman John O'Keeffe tried to explain their position on the breath tests debacle under intense questioning. Video: RTE News


Rank and file gardaí have rejected findings by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan that senior Garda management did not gain from the gross inflation or alcohol breath tests.

Frontline gardaí claim senior management wanted to collect useless data to improve their chances of promotion.

In a statement on the controversy surrounding the discovery that the number of breath tests taken between 2009 and 2017 was exaggerated by 1.5 million, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) said the people of Ireland had been let down by politicians and senior Garda management rather than gardaí on the front line.

In his report published last week, senior Garda officer Mr O’Sullivan absolved senior Garda officers of anything deliberately untoward, saying their sole focus was always to catch drink drivers.

At the conclusion of a two-day meeting of its national executive in Dublin, however, the GRA questioned why Garda management wanted data about negative breath tests, especially when policing resources were so low.

“This data was utilised as a crude measure of productivity - and fed into a culture of competition among senior ranks to improve their promotion chances,” it said.

Explaining its position, GRA spokesman John O’Keeffe told RTÉ: “GRA members did not falsify figures. [THEY]were told to elevate figures by middle and senior management, and those figures were elevated thus.”

He said the falsification began when rank and file gardaí “were told if they did not elevate these figures there could be issues”.

In its statement, the GRA said: “No one can categorically say that it was our members falsifying data – we have numerous examples of supervisors and managers having input into this system.”

There was also “little or no training” and the process for recording the test data was “obviously flawed”.

“We have to ask who wanted this data recorded in the first place - and what does it purport to show?” the GRA said.

“Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target - it ceases to become a good measure.”

It added that during the recession, when Garda numbers of plummeted, senior management claimed crime was falling, a view the GRA said was “propagated by Government”.

‘Blew the whistle’

“We blew the whistle and said that crime figures were being ‘massaged’ downwards. And we were vindicated by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate and latterly the Central Statistics Office, ” it said.

The GRA added it was clear from a report into the inflated breath test data by Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan that senior Garda management “do not wish to be blamed” for the debacle.

“But it is entirely of their own making,” the GRA said. “Their obsession with data collection, for no clear and distinct purpose, while our members were issued with endless directives at a time of under-resourcing, no training, increased workloads and an unclear system of collation was a policy of failure.

“Our members will not be scapegoated for ill-considered policies - and this should be the focus of political attention.

“If the people of Ireland have been let down; then it is in the management and deployment of scant resources to appease the need for purposeless data by those in power.”

The Garda report into the inflated, or fake, breath tests was released last Wednesday. It showed the extent of the problem, which spanned from June 2009 to April 2017.

It found that 3,498,400 breath tests were recorded on the Garda’s Pulse computer system, when only 2,040,179 were recorded on alcohol testing devices.

That represents a discrepancy of 1,458,221 breath tests.

The report also identified three areas of fault: systems failures, an inability to understand Garda policy, and governance and oversight failures.

It found that in a significant number of cases the number of breath tests was simply made up.

The report defended senior Garda management and stressed their sole focus was the detection of drink driving.

There was no benefit to individuals who inflated the breath test figures and no career advancement or obvious rewards from engaging in this practice, it found.