Ministers believe public trust in Garda force ‘shattered’

Forensic accountants may be brought in to review all Garda data related to all crimes

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan at a press conference in Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

 

A review of all data held by An Garda Síochána is being considered as Ministers believe trust in the force has been “shattered” by the recording of one million breath tests that never happened.

While Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil the Government still has confidence in the Garda Commissioner, some Ministers privately said they had no option but to back Noirín O’Sullivan.

One Minister said support for Ms O’Sullivan was “wafer thin”, and that the unspoken element of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting is a general feeling that she should stand down.

The Government, in consultation with the Opposition, will now establish a “root and branch” review of An Garda Síochána, along the lines of the review of policing in Northern Ireland following the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting Ministers also discussed the possibility of the Policing Authority using external assistance, such as forensic accountants, to review all data held by the gardaí.

“Burglaries, immigration, breathalysing, traffic: every bit of data they hold,” said one.

There was recognition at the meeting, according to sources, of the consequence of the Government and Ministers failing to support Ms O’Sullivan.

“I’d look at it the other way,” said one. “There was no rousing speech to support her. There was a realisation that if we did not declare confidence in her there would be legal ramifications. There was a lot of talk about trust being shattered.” There was an acknowledgement that Josephine Feehily, the chairwoman of Policing Authority, could be trusted.

Divided

Views are divided among Ministers about whether Ms O’Sullivan should resign. “I don’t think people would be too upset if that is what she decided to,” said one.

Another, however, said: “Not without a smoking gun that implicates her in some way in wrongdoing.”

Fine Gael and Independent Ministers are concerned that An Garda Síochána does not recognise the scale of the crisis it faces. Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, Denis Naughten and Michael Noonan were said to have made strong contributions at the meeting.

The Minster for Finance, a former justice minister, is understood to have said the Constitution obliges the State to protect its citizens. Mr Noonan questioned if An Garda Síochána could be said to be doing so.

A memo to Cabinet said Ms O’Sullivan had been “urged” by Ms Fitzgerald to make a public statement prior to a press conference by the commissioner earlier this week.

Meanwhile, there is concern in the Garda that rank-and-file members will be scapegoated under the force’s internal investigation into the inflated breath testing.

The Irish Times understands a small number of Garda members have already been asked to account for testing numbers entered for a checkpoint conducted in recent days.

Account for actions

The members have been asked to account for their actions under Section 39 of the Garda Síochána Act. The rarely used provision removes the right to silence in disciplinary inquiries.

Some sources believe pressure was brought on rank-and-file gardaí to enter scheduled numbers of breath tests even when a lower number than planned was actually carried out.

Others believed a small number of Garda staff had blown into the hand held devices themselves to register a test and fill a quota.