Fianna Fáil criticises O’Sullivan’s response to breath test issue

Working group established to oversee data quality management, commissioner says

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has appointed Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan to examine the recording of breath testing. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has appointed Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan to examine the recording of breath testing. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Fianna Fáil has criticised Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan for again failing to offer satisfactory explanations as to how the breath test controversy occurred.

Ms O’Sullivan appeared before the Oireachtas justice committee last month to face questions on the matter. Arising from her appearance, the committee sought clarification from her in writing on a number of matters. She had been asked to provide “comprehensive replies” to a list of 27 questions by noon on April 11th.

The questions centred on the revelations that 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences and that gardaí had exaggerated the number of breathalyser tests carried out by one million.

In response the commissioner confirmed homicide figures and domestic violence statistics are also now being examined to assess their accuracy. However, she insisted she does not know of any discrepancies in relation to other Garda data on the scale of the breath test controversy.

Review

Ms O’Sullivan said: “In light of issues raised by the Garda Inspectorate and the Central Statistics Office, a working group has been established to oversee data quality management and, at the time of writing, An Garda Síochána is reviewing the classification of incidents including domestic violence. While this work is at an early stage, all developments will be reported.

“The Policing Authority has been informed of this examination and has been invited to partake in the working group. A data quality examination in respect of a number of homicide incidents recorded on Pulse is also currently ongoing and is nearing completion.”

The Oireachtas committee sought answers on when the Garda Commissioner first became aware of the two recent controversies.

The commissioner said concerns about breath tests were reported to her office and the Department of Justice in June 2016. A notification was also placed on the Garda website at that point.

The commissioner informed committee members the gardaí had communicated with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety on January 10th this year. However, it did not make formal contacts with the body until February 20th, the day The Irish Times published an article outlining difficulties with the breath test figures.

Ms O’Sullivan insisted the publication was not the reason the gardaí contacted the Medical Bureau of Road Safety insisting The Irish Times “did not influence the decision”.

Unresolved

Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice Jim O’Callaghan said the answers provided failed to answer the key questions he and his party have.

Mr O’Callaghan said some extra detail had been given to members but the main issues remain unresolved.

He said: “For instance, the nature of the contact between the gardaí and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety in February 2017 needs to be established.

“More importantly the public still has not been given an explanation as to why 937,000 breath tests were falsely recorded on the Garda Pulse system, or what was the error that led to 14,700 wrongful convictions.”

Fianna Fáil has said it cannot express confidence in Ms O’Sullivan and has called on the Policing Authority to assess her position.

The Garda Commissioner has appointed Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan to examine the recording of breath testing at mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints and how they resulted in the inaccurate recording of statistics. A report is due back within two weeks.

Ms O’Sullivan also told the committee the road test figures were not used as a performance indicator for individual gardaí.

This had been raised by members at the recent Oireachtas committee hearing.

The commissioner insisted: “These checkpoints were primarily preventative in nature but always designed, and located, to improve road safety and to reduce road deaths.”

Data quality unit

Ms O’Sullivan said there were widespread difficulties with data in the force and a new data quality unit is being established to strengthen the processes in place.

The commissioner is also seeking the appointment of civilians to the posts of chief data officer and data quality manager.

The Oireachtas committee is to examine the correspondence at a meeting after the Easter recess and assess if Ms O’Sullivan should be invited to give evidence again.

It will also ask the Medical Bureau of Road Safety to examine the answers given by the commissioner to ensure they comply with their version of events.

Independent4Change TD Mick Wallace said the commissioner’s response proved she was not fit for the position.