Longtime political interference damaging Garda Síochána, says Tánaiste
Jim O’Callaghan: A blemish on our justice system that 14,700 wrongful convictions not overturned
Jim O’Callaghan: there were shameful errors by the Garda regarding breath tests “and I regret to say this [was] dishonestly recorded on the Pulse system”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Political interference damaged An Garda Síochána throughout the State’s history, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said.
She said the great respect that existed for the work of members of An Garda Síochána, sometimes at great personal cost, could not blind the House to the need for profound and lasting change in the way it did its work.
“I suspect, with hindsight, that down through the years all governments, as long as gardaí were relatively successful in keeping the community safe and protecting our security, were slow to recognise the problems that accumulated, as the nettle of necessary reform was not grasped,’’ the Tánaiste added.
She said the Government’s position relating to confidence in Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan remained unchanged.
She said she had no problem in principle with the proposal by Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan to increase the powers of the Policing Authority.
“However, it is difficult to square that with his apparent unwillingness to let a body, independent by law, get on with their job,’’ she added.
Ms Fitzgerald said the authority already had the power to recommend to the Government the removal of certain Garda officers from their post, including the Garda Commissioner, something she had built into legislation.
The Tánaiste said she had legal advice that there was no statutory mechanism for the Government to make a request to the authority of the kind referred to in the Fianna Fáil motion and, indeed, that making such a request could prejudice any later formal recommendation by the authority.
The Tánaiste warned that personalising issues and acting as if deep-seated problems could be changed by constant changing of personnel would not help.
“And populism, parading as reform, won’t help,’’ Ms Fitzgerald added.
Mr O’Callaghan had introduced a private members’ motion calling on the Government to give the Policing Authority more powers and that it should assess the role and capacity of the Garda Commissioner to restore public confidence in An Garda Síochána.
He also said it was extraordinary that 14,700 wrongful criminal convictions remained on the statute books. “Nothing has been done to seek to overturn that.”
He said it was “a blemish on our criminal justice system that we allow them on our criminal justice system. No steps taken by anyone to seek to quash these convictions. We’ve been told they may be appealed, but we know that is a nonsense.”
Mr O’Callaghan said there were shameful errors by an Garda Síochána with “breath tests, falsely, and I regret to say this dishonestly recorded on the Pulse system”.
Fianna Fáil’s John Curran criticised the internal audit committees of the Garda. He said that when gardaí were embroiled in controversy its internal audit committees were not functioning properly and they should be used to the full.
He also criticised the Tánaiste for failing to attend the conference of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), who “should have been offered that courtesy”.
His party colleague John McGuinness asked how two groups of internal audit committees did not uncover the 14,700 wrongful prosecutions or the almost one million breath tests not carried out. He said it was a failure of Garda management who seem to have overlooked what was happening.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said he had heard nobody in Fianna Fáil say “yes” or “no” on whether they believed the Cabinet should remove Ms O’Sullivan. They should not try to move it off to an independent body to deal with, he added.
Mr O’Brien said: “You sit too long on the fence you get splinters on your backside,” adding that it was time for Fianna Fáil to get off the fence.
Highlighting some of the procedures that could easily be changed, he said that he could not believe the Policing Authority was not permitted to make an unannounced visit to a Garda station but had to give three months’ notice.