Policing Authority ‘intensely frustrated’ at Garda report delays

Watchdog expresses its ‘impatience’ over review of fake breath tests scandal

The Policing Authority has expressed "intense frustration and impatience" with An Garda Síochána over the delay in the report on the fake breath tests and fixed-charge penalty notices scandal.

In a statement on Friday, the authority added that the absence of a timeline for the completed report from the Garda into the accuracy of homicide figures was “increasingly difficult to understand.”

The statement, issued following the authority’s scheduled July meeting on Thursday, was highly critical of the Garda’s handling of the various controversies that have plagued the force this year.

The authority noted that Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Committee of Public Accounts had also expressed continued concerns about the Garda responses “suggesting potentially deeper cultural aspects at play.”

It emerged earlier this year that almost one million false breath tests were recorded on the Garda Pulse system and that almost 15,000 motorists were convicted in error over fixed charge penalty fines.

The Central Statistics Office suspended publication of quarterly crime statistics last month because of concerns over the accuracy of the homicide figures provided by An Garda Síochána.

Josephine Feehily, the chair of the authority, had previously criticised a second Garda interim report on the fake breath tests for containing "no analysis at all" of how and why the fake figures were recorded.

The oversight authority said that the findings of the committee's report and Garda Internal Audit reports into the financial irregularities at the Garda College in Templemore "further elaborate matters of significant concern to the authority in relation to the management of public funds and governance of the Garda Síochána."

“The authority considers that the governance failures are very serious and that remedial action ought to have commenced much earlier,” said the authority.

Revenues generated from activities at the college including the rental of accommodation and cash from the tuck shop, bar and restaurant, were banked in more than 40 unauthorised bank accounts, including amounts ranging from €5,000 to €90,000 comprising European Union funds that ended up in a bank account in Cabra.

Referring to recent unsuccessful prosecutions, including the Garda review of the case into the Jobstown anti-water charges protest in 2014, the authority said that "there are situations where, as a matter of good practice, when prosecutions fail there should be a review to learn what went wrong."

Jobstown case

The authority said that it was keen to understand “the full scope of the lessons-learned review being undertaken by the Garda Síochána in relation to the Jobstown case.”

Solidarity TD Paul Murphy and five other water-charges protesters were acquitted last month of falsely imprisoning the then tánaiste Joan Burton and her adviser Karen O'Connell during a demonstration in 2014.

The authority’s statement said that they were “reassured to note that the review would encompass the incident on the day, the investigation and the evidence.”

The review will consider the events in the context of the rule of law, human rights, the code of ethics established by the authority and Garda policy.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has said that the conduct of Garda witnesses who testified at the trial will not form part of a review ordered after the acquittal of the six individuals.

Mr Murphy had alleged, under Dáil privilege, that a large number of Garda witnesses had lied while giving evidence during the trial and suggested an orchestrated effort by the Garda to mislead the trial.

The authority also announced the resignation of one of its members, Dr Vicky Conway.

She has stepped down in order to avoid any perception of conflict of interest arising from her membership of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

Ms Feehily said last week that it was “unfortunate” that Ms O’Sullivan would miss the authority’s July meeting, one of 11 scheduled meetings this year, because she would be taking extended summer holidays.

The commissioner will attend the next authority meeting, which will be held in public on September 28th when the authority will consider the Garda review of the Jobstown investigation and the homicide figures.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent