Garda breath test debacle not just management’s fault, says O’Sullivan

Tánaiste echoes Commissioner’s view, saying rank-and-file must also accept responsibility

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan speaking at the GRA Conference in Galway on Tuesday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan speaking at the GRA Conference in Galway on Tuesday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy


Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald have told rank-and-file gardaí they must accept their responsibility for the inflating of alcohol breath-test figures.

They have rejected the Garda Representative Association’s assertion that the problem was the making of senior Garda management and not of rank-and-file gardaí conducting breath-testing checkpoints.

Ms Fitzgerald told GRA members at its annual conference in Salthill, Galway, on Tuesday afternoon that the inflating of breath testing data was a “failure of the entire organisation”.

“The force must accept collective responsibility and collectively resolve to ensure something like that never happens again.”

Serious issues had emerged with the Garda that had damaged trust in policing, she said. But changing the “culture” of the organisation required effort from all members.

“That includes you. Each and every one of you,” she told the delegates, who represent 10,200 rank-and -file gardaí in a force of 13,000 members.

Issues for management

Ms O’Sullivan conceded there may be issues for Garda management to face when it became clear exactly how one million breath tests carried out were inflated to two million in the Garda’s official record.

However, she insisted that did not negate the collective responsibility all Garda members must accept for the debacle.

The members of the GRA “are the members on the ground”. They were the ones carrying out the tests. And while many members had recorded their testing numbers “absolutely accurately”, others did not, and that amounted to “a failure”.

“We either have a case here where people, members of An Garda Síochána, aren’t able to count or haven’t counted accurately the number of cars that are going through checkpoints and were stopped. Or we have something on the other end of the scale where somebody is just making up figures.”

Based on her conversations with gardaí all over the country of late, she had encountered “a collective embarrassment and a sorryness” over the debacle.

She added that the Assistant Commissioner, Michael O’Sullivan, was due to present an interim report on the matter on Thursday at a public session of the Policing Authority where roads policing would be discussed.

Assaults on members

Reacting to calls by the GRA for assaults on its members to be recorded with greater accuracy and the prosecution of attackers to be prioritised and a much more consistent approach taken, Ms Fitzgerald said she took those calls seriously.

There was “already fairly strong legislation” dealing with assaults on gardaí. However, that legislation was “not being used that much at present”.

“I want to examine why that is the situation and if I can get stronger legislation to put it in place, so that judges will be empowered to take more account of the role that our emergency workers and Garda Síochána are playing.

“And if they are assaulted in the course of their duties that [could] be a factor in determining sentencing.”

However, she was not sure if mandatory sentencing could be introduced.

Ms O’Sullivan said she was “very conscious” of gardaí being assaulted and indeed had personal experience.

“I’ve been bitten, I’ve been spat at. I’ve been assaulted,” she said.

“I know what it’s like to wait at home when you have a family member assaulted and you’re waiting to see have they recovered from a very serious injury,” she said, in an apparent reference to the fact her husband and son are both also members of the force.

“I remember being a victim of crime, being assaulted on Parnell Street [in Dublin] and ending up with a dislocated shoulder.”

In some of the cases where she was victimised, some of those responsible were prosecuted and some not.

Every assault on gardaí was treated seriously, she said. And if any gardaí believed their senior management had not taken assaults seriously, she wanted to hear about it.