In her own words: What Nóirín O’Sullivan told the committee

Garda Commissioner appeared before committee over falsification of breath test data

Nóirín O’Sullivan: ‘If there are people who have found to have erred, or deliberate wrongdoing, yes there will be sanctions.’

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan appeared before the Oireachtas Justice Committee on Wednesday to answer questions on the latest controversy to hit the force.

She was asked a number of questions over the four hour session, including falsification of data, why the Policing Authority wasn't informed of the issues, and if there are more issues of concern that will arise in An Garda Síochána.

Did Garda members “dishonestly” enter false breath test data? (Jim O’Callaghan TD, Fianna Fáil)

LIVE: Part 2 - The Oireachtas Justice Committee is meeting Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to discuss the recent controversies concerning An Garda Síochána Full coverage: http://on.irishtimes.com/YmEhaY9

Posted by The Irish Times on Thursday, March 30, 2017

LIVE: The Oireachtas Justice Committee is meeting Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to discuss the recent controversies concerning An Garda Síochána Full coverage: http://on.irishtimes.com/YmEhaY9

Posted by The Irish Times on Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nóirín O’Sullivan: “It may well be the case that members deliberately put figures into the system that were not correct figures. We haven’t got to the bottom of what we have got.”

What was the “cultural trigger” that may have allowed false data to have been inputted? (Jack Chambers TD, FF)

Nóirín O’Sullivan: “A hypothesis may well be that MAT (mandatory alcohol test) checkpoints are preventive measures.” She added that their main purpose is to change behaviour and “not to catch people”.

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“Perhaps it wasn’t as valued as important as it was in terms of detections”. The commissioner said, in such a hypothesis, that mistakes may have arisen if the data was in recorded 24 or 48 hours after a garda had been on a busy shift.

Why was the Policing Authority not informed of the issue? (Jim O’Callaghan, FF)

Nóirín O’Sullivan:“It was a complete oversight. It was notified to the department.”

Deputy Commissioner John Twomey said the authority was not notified because of an administrative error on his behalf. Mr Twomey said An Garda Síochána only received the final figures in breath test discrepancies this March.

How can the Garda figure of 400,000 checkpoints be trusted? (Clare Daly TD, Independents4Change)

Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn said he can "stand over" and "categorically say the recorded figures are for "validated checkpoints" and do not include checkpoints that have not been validated.

Is it acceptable that that An Garda Síochána only fully ascertained the scale of the problem in recent weeks despite being first alerted to it in 2014? (Senator Martin Conway, Fine Gael)

Nóirín O'Sullivan said she was operating with depleted staffing levels after her initial appointment on an interim basis following the retirement of Martin Callinan.

She also said that there is a perception that An Garda Síochána is a “data rich” organisation that has “systems that at the press of a button that we can produce data”. “We can’t,” she said, adding that there has to be a huge trawl of records, some of which are paper documents, that have to gathered and analysed.

Will those who are found to have deliberately altered data be sanctioned? (Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, FF)

Nóirín O’Sullivan: “If there are people who have found to have erred, or deliberate wrongdoing, yes there will be sanctions.”

Can the figures produced by An Garda Síochána be trusted? (Alan Farrell TD, FG)

Nóirín O’Sullivan said they could but added that she had asked for data to be reviewed. She said the data the force produces has to be “flawless”.

At what point will you consider your own position? (Martin Conway, FG )

Nóirín O’Sullivan said the senior management had all committed to delivering “a modern, professional policing service” and had the “courage and determination” to see through change.

“What is needed is strong, visible leadership, both internally and externally,” she said, noting An Garda Síochána’s role in national security as well as policing.

Are there more issues of concern that will arise in An Garda Síochána? (Martin Conway, FG)

The commissioner indicated she had no specific information about bad practices.“We are identifying bad practice but we are also identifying good practice.” She stressed the need for good ethics in the force, and tied it to inputting correct data. She said Garda headquarters has been “inundated” over the past week with members of the force saying they realised how serious the latest controversy is.

Is the data on breath tests and checkpoints related to possible bonuses awarded to senior figures in the force? (Jack Chambers TD, FF)

Nóirín O’Sullivan: While some “divisional activity targets would be related to traffic...to reduce deaths on the road”, she said she was not aware if this was the case with breath tests.

“I am not aware of the bonus. One of the deficits we have is performance management. We don’t know it here today, I certainly I don’t.”

Mr Finn said there was a bonus scheme for senior officers but said each Assistant Commissioner “set their own targets”.

Is it fair that gardaí who had had no part in the controversy were included in Ms O’Sullivan’s statement that everyone in the force was responsible? (Pearse Doherty TD, SF)

Nóirín O’Sullivan: “I am talking about collectively. This isn’t laying the blame at any individual’s door. That is Michael O’Sullivan’s (Assistant Garda Commissioner) job.”

Robust exchanges

The tone of the exchanges at the meeting were unusually robust and contrast with the more reverential approach Oireachtas committees have taken in the past when questioning Garda Commissioners.

Among the statements put to Ms O’Sullivan were:

Sen Niall Ó Donnghaile (SF) on the Commissioner’s statement mentioning possible other shortcomings with Garda data:

“You do the public across the State a terrible disservice by coming in and raising a red flag like that without expanding on it. You’ve raised that red flag and then give us no specific evidence. I think it is bordering on showing contempt for this committee and for the public.”

Sen Martin Conway (FG) expressing hope Ms O’Sullivan would win the public’s confidence again:

“If you do, you will have put Lazarus in the ha’penny place.”

Jim O’Callaghan TD (FF) on the Garda first seeking accurate breath test data from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety 19 months after a Garda audit began:

"It's interesting there is a flurry of activity after an article is published in The Irish Times on the 20th of February; I find that interesting."

Colm Brophy TD (FG) on her responses to the committee:

“You’ve answered nothing I’ve asked you. You said you’re not making excuses but, to be honest, you basically just delivered a complete set of excuses as to why you didn’t do something...

“You command a force and you have been conducting, by your own statements, an investigation that started approximately in 2014. You come in today and say you still haven’t completed the audit. Do you actually think that’s acceptable?”

Jack Chambers (FF):

“We know the ‘what’. I want to know what drove this systematic failure. What was the trigger in the force that drove this enormous cultural failure? Surely you have some answer to that question?”

Mick Wallace (Ind):

“Commissioner, you say that people at all levels will he held to account. But who’s going to hold you to account?”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times