Garda breath testing debacle: Answers wanted

Testy exchanges between Policing Authority and Garda Commissioner

 

It is remarkable that more than a month after the exposure of the breath test debacle, the Garda authorities do not appear to be close to providing a public explanation as how one million tests carried out in the five years to 2016 were inflated to two million in official Garda records.

Appearing before a meeting of the Policing Authority yesterday, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was only able to say that an interim report had not identified a single cause for the exaggeration. She told the authority the report pointed to a number of factors for the inflated figures but she said she could not at this stage identify the reason for the errors. She did accept that the over-statement involved was simply not good enough.

Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily said the controversy over false breath tests and wrongful speeding convictions had raised serious questions that undermined the effectiveness of traffic policing and confidence in it

Although the report is only an interim one, it is surely not too much to expect that the internal Garda investigation could have come up with some preliminary findings about the reasons for such extraordinary figures. Authority member Maureen Lynott was correct to suggest that the episode represented a much bigger problem than that of breath tests and amounted to a very serious critical matter of supervision and local management which affects everything gardaí do.

Pointing out that road deaths and injuries had increased over the past four years, authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily said the controversy over false breath tests and wrongful speeding convictions had raised serious questions that undermined the effectiveness of traffic policing and confidence in it.

New figures show that between December 1st and January 8th, a total of 961 people were detained on suspicion of drink-driving. Photograph: Frank Miller
"The Garda authorities do not appear to be close to providing a public explanation as how one million tests carried out in the five years to 2016 were inflated to two million in official Garda records." File photograph: Frank Miller

There were some testy exchanges between Ms Feehily and the Commissioner during the hearing, particularly over the reasons for a review of the homicide data. Ms Feehily did not hide her impatience at the explanations being offered by the Commissioner on this point.

The conduct of the hearing demonstrated that things have changed for the Garda with the establishment of the authority. Ms O’Sullivan and her senior officers are being held to account in public in a way that has not happened before. That is a positive development for policing in Ireland.

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