Inspectorate findings are embarassing for the Garda but not devastating

In 60% of the cases that went to court, the motorists sidestepped the penalty points handed down to them by simply leaving their driving licence at home that day

Some €7.5 million in fines revenue was foregone when court summonses that should have called motorists to court to pay the financial penalty and incur the points never reached the motorists in question. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Some €7.5 million in fines revenue was foregone when court summonses that should have called motorists to court to pay the financial penalty and incur the points never reached the motorists in question. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Many pages of the report of the Garda Inspectorate on the workings of the penalty points system make for difficult reading for An Garda Síochána.

Much of the detail points, at best, to a very relaxed attitude towards the cancellation of points incurred for speeding and other infringements. At worst it shows the professionalism expected of the Garda slipped at times to such an extent as to be unrecognisable.

Some sections point to what can only be described as Father Ted policing; where an “ah sure it’ll be grand” attitude damages and embarrasses the Garda.

In some cases motorists simply made a phone call requesting a penalty points termination – “go on, go on; you will, you will” – and these approaches were accepted by members of the force who ignored the need to keep even basic records or fill out a form.

In 60 per cent of the cases that went to court, the motorists sidestepped the penalty points handed down to them by simply leaving their driving licence at home that day. There was no follow-up process across the Garda seeking the licence so the points could be tagged on.

And while the recording of drivers’ licence numbers was vital for that process, if people had the good fortune to live in certain areas they would be very unlucky to find themselves suffering the consequences of their offences.

In the Drogheda and Dundalk District Court area, only 15 per cent of licence numbers were recorded, meaning the remaining 85 per cent on whom penalty points were imposed never incurred them in real terms. Yet in the Dublin Metropolitan Region, the recording of driving licence numbers was 60 per cent.

Another cause for major embarrassment exposed by the inspectorate was the black hole into which summonses were sucked, never to be seen again.


Revenue
Some €7.5 million in fines revenue was foregone when court summonses that should have called motorists to court to pay the financial penalty and incur the points never reached the motorists in question.

The inspectorate found that in 2011 and 2012, of the 178,500 summonses issued, some 52 per cent were never served.

Procedures in relation to the cancellation of points generally were rarely followed. Gardaí handling appeals from the public were never trained to adjudicate on appeals .

In some cases Garda members “borrowed” the numbers of retired colleagues when amending the Pulse computer database to terminate points. In other cases when members who had cancelled points were moving on to other posts or were retiring they shredded any documents connected to the points they had terminated.

But while the inspectorate recommends the wholesale reform of the penalty points system, it supports the key finding of the internal inquiry conducted last year under Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney.

It agreed that points were cancelled in less than five per cent of cases. And some 70 per cent of cases resulted in a straightforward process where fines and points were incurred as per the law.

That leaves 25 per cent of all cases that fell between the cracks that the inspectorate hopes will be repaired with the implementation of its recommendations.

That figure is much too high, especially appearing as it does in a system designed to save lives. But it appears to arise as a result of poorly constructed and, at times, sloppily run systems rather than anything more sinister.

There is no whiff of cordite to the inspectorate’s findings. Nobody is named and shamed. There is no criminal intent outlined and no suggestion that gardaí who cancelled points received any reward for doing so. There is no claim of corruption, which was the central accusation of the Garda whistleblowers and those who supported them, including a number of independent TDs.