Superintendents ‘must take some responsibility’ for breath-testing figures

Data inflation raises serious ‘ethic and culture issues’, says Minister for Justice

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald told the Association of Garda Superintendents conference that supervisors and managers were responsible for what goes on on their watch. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald told the Association of Garda Superintendents conference that supervisors and managers were responsible for what goes on on their watch. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Garda superintendents must take their share of responsibility for the inflating of breath-testing data that occurred on their watch, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has told their annual conference in Naas.

Addressing the Association of Garda Superintendents (AGS) conference, she said the inflation of the figures raised serious “ethic and culture” issues for the Garda.“This is not about blame. It is, though, about responsibility,” she said.

“It is about doing the right thing. I don’t need to tell you, as managers in An Garda Síochána, that supervisors and managers are responsible for what goes on on their watch.”

President of the AGS, Supt Noel Cunningham, said he did not believe members of the Garda set out to deliberately inflate the data.

The controversy emerged last month when the Garda revealed one million breath tests had been carried out between 2012 and 2016 but two million had been recorded in the official Garda statistics.

Detecting not recording

Supt Cunningham said that when breath testing was originally introduced, the Garda was issued with “blow in the bag” kits that were disposed of after being used once. He said the emphasis was on detecting drunk drivers rather than recording the number of tests carried out.

He said that with the introduction of the current Drager handheld testing devices, which can be used repeatedly, the emphasis remained on detection rather than on compiling data.

If keeping a record of test numbers had been so important, the Garda should have been issued with equipment that better recorded information with a facility to upload the data to a computer database at the end of a checkpoint.

“I don’t think anybody was setting out to say I did X, when they did Y,” he said.

“I believe members were acting in a responsible manner. They were trying to make the roads safer and that’s what our function was, what we were trying to do, it wasn’t about numbers.”

Supt Cunninghan said some gardaí believed they had tested a motorist in cases where a breath sample was not taken. This included cases where motorists went through a checkpoint and were spoken to, but it was determined they had not been drinking and no breath test was required.

“You have to remember this occurred at a time when resources were hugely depleted,” he said.

Road traffic enforcement was increasingly being performed by regular Garda units rather than members of the depleted Traffic Corps.

“[Gardaí] were going from breath tests to assaults, to domestic disputes, to road traffic accidents, to anything they could be called to,” Supt Cunninghan said.

“They then had to go back at the end of their tour and record all of their functions, all of their duties. And the important thing was the breath test was done; that’s what was important. The numbers were not really a huge priority; it was to identify drunk drivers.”

Dealing with other issues, he said he believed that while Ireland was not immune from the threat of terror groups like Isis, the Garda was well positioned to respond given that they had dealt with the indigenous terror threat for decades.

“I think we are very, very well equipped and skilled in relation to intelligence gathering and intelligence dissemination but what I do believe is that this requires resourcing on the ground.”