Tánaiste was ‘aware’ of fixed charge notice problems last June
But Frances Fitzgerald says she only learnt of the ‘appalling’ scale last week
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the full implications of this issue had yet to emerge but she understood the concern of the general public. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said she became aware of difficulties with the fixed charge notice system in June 2016.
However she said she only became aware of the scale of the problem on March 14th when a further report was provided to her officials.
In a statement on Friday, Ms Fitzgerald said An Garda Síochána wrote to the Department and released a press statement confirming there was a nationwide audit underway.
“I have made it clear to the Commissioner that the practices that allowed this misreporting to happen within An Garda Síochána over many years need to be fully addressed and the new systems that she has put in place will need to be robust, tested and verified in the time ahead,” the Minister said.
Earlier, she described the wrongful conviction of 14,700 people, disclosed publicly on Thursday, as “appalling and staggering”.
Ms Fitzgerald said the full implications of the issue had yet to emerge but she understood the concern of the general public.
The State is facing a bill of tens of millions of euro after it was revealed 14,700 people had been convicted of motoring offences by the courts in error.
Placing direct pressure on Garda Commission Noirin O’Sullivan, the Tánaiste said the matter did raise issues around supervision and accountability.
Ms Fitzgerald said: “I have spoken to the chair of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily and they will be continuing their examination of this issue over the coming weeks so that it will be fully examined and we can have the full facts about how this happened and why it happened.”
The Commissioner is also facing calls to explain how the 2 million breathtests recorded on pulse as having been carried out between 2012 and 2016 was 1 million higher than the actual number of breathtests conducted.
The gardaí have been able to provide a reason for the massive discrepancy.
The over estimation of breathtests by gardaí on Pulse was first reported by The Irish Times in February. The Policing Authority expressed concern during a meeting with the Garda Commissioner one week later that it had found out about the issue via the media, rather than from an Garda.
Fianna Fáil Justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said on Friday he would not have confidence in the gardaí or the Garda Commissioner until he gets answers on why almost 15,000 motorists were wrongly convicted.
“I don’t have confidence in the way the gardaí handled this. The Commissioner should take the lead to see that an acceptable explanation is given,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland.
“We need to know why something like this happened and who is at fault,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
He added that he was very concerned that gardaí had known for the last eight months about this and did not say anything until yesterday.
“They said there was no single reason to account for this discrepancy. That is not acceptable.”
“We need answers not another inquiry. Someone has to take responsibility and explain how this occurred.
“They need to take steps to protect their credibility.”
The mistakes arose when motorists who had paid a fine under the fixed charge notice (FCN) system were mistakenly sent summonses to appear before court.
In each of the cases they were convicted and a sanction, including a fine, was imposed.
However, because they had paid a fine on receipt of their FCN for motoring offences the matter should have concluded at that juncture. They should never have been summonsed.
A total of 146,865 summonses had been sent out in error in that way since the fixed charge notice system began in 2006.
However, gardaí believe it is only those cases where the motorists were convicted and sanctioned by a court that action must now be taken.
The Garda plans to contact all of the people involved and make arrangements to have all of the cases brought back before the courts to set aside the convictions.