Members of the Garda may have “deliberately” recorded incorrect figures on breath tests that did not in fact happen, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has said.
Appearing before the Oireachtas justice committee to answer questions on the latest controversy to hit the force, Ms O'Sullivan apologised for failures in the road breath test system over the past decade.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan had asked what the wrongdoing was in regard to the breath tests which Ms O'Sullivan was referring to in her apology. He asked whether members had "dishonestly" entered false breath test data.
He asked whether it was done in error or whether “someone picked a number and just entered a number”.
Ms O’Sullivan said the Garda had yet to fully get to the bottom of what happened. “It may well be the case that members deliberately put figures into the system that were not correct figures,” she said.
Ms O'Sullivan was accompanied by Deputy Commissioner John Twomey, Deputy Commissioner Donal O'Cualáin, Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn and Chief Administrative Officer Joe Nugent.
Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers said there must be some "hypothesis about what triggered this enormous cultural failure" that may have allowed false data to be inputted.
In response, Ms O’Sullivan said that a “hypothesis” could be that breath test checkpoints were used as preventive measures to stop drink-driving, and were perhaps not taken as seriously by gardaí as the detection of crime was.
“A hypothesis may well be that MAT (mandatory alcohol test) checkpoints are preventive measures,” she said, adding that their main purpose is to change behaviour and “not to catch people”.
“Perhaps it wasn’t as valued as important as it was in terms of detections.”
The commissioner also said, in such a hypothesis, that mistakes may have arisen if the data was recorded 24 or 48 hours after a garda had been on a busy shift.
She apologised “sincerely for the grave mistakes and wrongdoing during the last decade that have led to the two controversies we are here today to discuss”.
Mr Finn said the Garda “misled the public in terms of our data” but said there was “never a desire for Garda regions to compete with each other”.
Independent TD Clare Daly asked why Ms O'Sullivan would not take responsibility for the errors. The commissioner replied: "I have never said I would not take responsibility for this. I am taking responsibility for this."
She said the Garda had “put in place corrective actions that make us a better service” since the problem emerged in 2014.
Ms Daly asked if Ms O'Sullivan was aware of the concerns raised by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety about the discrepancy in breath test statistics.
Stocks of kits
Ms O’Sullivan said she did not know, and Mr Finn said the engagement with the bureau was largely a procurement issue. The bureau said it raised concerns about a discrepancy between the stocks of breath-testing kits and the number of tests recorded as being carried out by An
Ms Daly asked how other Garda figures on road checkpoints could be trusted. Mr Finn said he could “stand over” and “categorically say the recorded figures are for “validated checkpoints” and do not include checkpoints that have not been validated.
Independent TD Mick Wallace asked why many people believe Ms O'Sullivan is not the right person for her job.
Ms O'Sullivan said there was a statutory framework by which she could be held to account. The Cabinet can remove a commissioner or the Policing Authority can recommend to the Government that the commissioner be sacked.
Fine Gael's Senator Martin Conway asked Ms O'Sullivan about her weekend statement that more issues of concern will arise in An Garda Síochána. The commissioner indicated she had no specific information about bad practices.
Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee asked if those who deliberately altered data would be sanctioned.
“If there are people who have found to have erred, or deliberate wrongdoing, yes there will be sanctions,” Ms O’Sullivan replied.
Meanwhile , Minister forJustice Francis Fizgerald said in the Dáil last night that the drink-driving detection rate had doubled from 2-4 per cent as a result of the revised data.