Garda audit boss voices breath-test concerns to Policing Authority

Senior civilian executive Niall Kelly breaks ranks with HQ over recent scandal

A third senior civilian executive at the top of the Garda has moved to distance himself from Garda Headquarters’ position on recent scandals.

Niall Kelly, head of the Garda's audit unit, has contacted the Policing Authority to clarify a number of matters around the inflated breath-test figures.

He has distanced himself from the work done within the Garda that concluded only one million alcohol breath tests were performed during a period in which official records claimed two million tests had been conducted.

Mr Kelly has pointed out that neither he nor his staff were involved in the review process. Because of that, and also because the formal rigours of an audit process were not followed, he has insisted the process cannot be called an audit.


Senior Garda management have referred to the process as an audit.

At a press conference when the scandal broke in March, Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey referred to it as an audit.

Mr Kelly putting distance between himself and the review undertaken to determine the scale of the breath-testing debacle is further evidence of the divide now in Garda Headquarters.

Financial irregularities

John Barrett, the Garda's civilian human resources executive, has contradicted Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan's account of a meeting they had in July, 2015, about financial irregularities at the Garda College, Templemore.

Ms O'Sullivan told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting last week the meeting was brief.

However, moments later Mr Barrett said the meeting lasted over two hours. He has produced documents made after the meeting in which he says he warned those present the issues at the college were gravely serious.

And he claims he was met with resistance on the day of that meeting and that his official responsibilities had been scaled back since then.

The Garda's civilian head of analysis, Gurchand Singh, has also distanced himself from a report on errors with the classification and recording of homicides.

He has contacted the Policing Authority to inform it that a report lodged with it a fortnight ago outlining homicide misclassifications was neither compiled by him nor seen by him before it was submitted to the authority.

That report was submitted the night before the authority met senior Garda personnel in public session.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald yesterday expressed confidence in Ms O'Sullivan.

However, they were concerned by the latest developments – around Mr Barrett’s disclosures in documents to the PAC.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was forced to intervene last night to block a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

At a meeting of his parliamentary party Mr Martin insisted such a move would result in a general election.

Informed sources have confirmed to The Irish Times Mr Kelly has contacted the Policing Authority to voice his concerns over what he believed was the impression created that the breath-testing data review was a formal audit.

The authority did not comment when contacted yesterday. Efforts to contact Mr Kelly were not successful.

At the Policing Authority public sessions late last month chairwoman Josephine Feehily pointed out that the review of breath tests carried out was not an audit. Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan replied that "audit is a word used in An Garda Síochána to cover a lot of things".

She added the process was not deliberately described as an audit by senior personnel to mislead on the subject.

In response to a request for comment, Garda Headquarters last night said: “An Garda Síochána do not comment on details of correspondence with the Police Authority.

Following the initial review of issues relating to breath tests, a more detailed examination is being conducted by Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan. The Police Authority is also to conduct its own examination.”

The issue with breath-testing data emerged in late March when the Garda revealed it had checked its records against those of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

The bureau, which maintains the alcohol breath test kit for the Garda, found one million breath tests had been recorded between 2012 and 2016.

The Garda is yet to find the reasons why the testing rates were inflated so much for years; in some regions by as much as 500 per cent.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times