Gsoc critical of Garda penalty point failures as it abandons its investigation

Gsoc has criticised the failure by Garda management to sanction members of the force who abused the penalty points system despite some of those officers ranking as high as superintendent.

The Garda complaints body has had to abandon its own attempts to investigate gardaí for potential criminal wrongdoing, telling the Department of Justice the task is too big, the budget too small and the likelihood of successful prosecutions too weak to justify pursuing the matter further.

However, Gsoc said members of the force could have been disciplined by their own management for the way in which they cancelled fixed charge penalty notices without proper reason for favoured individuals.

Fifty-two members were identified as breaching Garda policy on cancellations in an internal probe into a random selection of cases by assistant commissioner John O’Mahoney, who has since retired. Only two were lightly sanctioned. The others were simply issued with letters advising them to stay within policy.

Gsoc’s report to the department said: “It is of concern to Gsoc that 50 members of such senior rank as inspector or superintendent should need to be issued with letters advising them to abide by Garda policy. Gsoc wonders if a letter was the most appropriate form of action in these circumstances.”

The O’Mahoney report was also found to be flawed in failing to refer allegations for further investigation and failure to examine in detail “preferential cancellations for individuals of note”.

Gsoc’s own investigation began in 2014 and found “widescale breaches of policy and procedure across the country”. It found that senior officers cancelled notices in districts where they had no authority to do so, including one who cancelled notices in 14 districts.

Officers with no authority to cancel notices used the credentials of retired superintendents and 72% of cancelled notices were merely marked cancelled with no supporting documentation to show if there was a reason.

Half the cancellations were for speeding — including a motorist who drove at 140kph over the speed limit.

The penalty points scandal which was brought to public attention by Sgt Maurice McCabe has been the subject of reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Garda HQ, the Garda Inspectorate, Public Accounts Committee and Garda Professional Standards Unit but Gsoc was the body with powers to bring about criminal proceedings.

It could not take on the probe with its own resources and tried to recruit external investigators but cost quotes ran up to twice the €1m the department allocated.

It said yesterday that “procedures for dealing with fixed-charged notice cancellations have dramatically changed in recent years” and the public would be better served by monitoring those procedures than continuing the investigation.

The decision comes after Garda management said no action would be taken against officers for falsifying breath tests. Independent TD Mick Wallace who raised Sgt McCabe’s concerns said: “Once again it is deemed not worth the expense to hold to account those who were engaged in malpractice.”

Garda HQ welcomed the finding that procedures had dramatically changed and thanked Sgt McCabe for helping reform the system. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was satisfied there was now a “a very robust process in place”.

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