Garda boss has three weeks to show action

Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin must show the Policing Authority in three weeks what disciplinary proceedings are being taken against gardaí on the breath test scandal, writes Cormac O'Keeffe.

The commissioner must also tell the authority at the next public meeting on November 23 what steps he is taking on the “deeply concerning” failure of the majority of his divisional commanders to report to his predecessor on their efforts to address inflated breath tests.

The developments come as an independent report on both the breath test and the fixed charge notice controversies was published.

The Crowe Horwath review, commissioned by the Policing Authority, prompted concerns from both bodies that similar scandals could be repeated unless fundamental cultural and management changes are made.

Speaking at the report launch with authority chair Josephine Feehily, Crowe Horwath’s Shane McQuillan said that given the scale of breath test falsification that they were posing a question in relation to the potential of similar practices in other areas of policing.

The 86-page report by the auditors identified common features to both controversies: Poor or inadequate IT systems and technology; lack of training, inadequate supervision, and deficits in accountability.

On the breath test issue, Crowe said: “A key finding of this review is that these technical and functional matters were compounded by a culture within the organisation that did not recognise the importance of accurate recording but in addition, in a much more damaging sense, created a dynamic of maximising data outcomes due to management pressure, expectations, and lack of professional curiosity when the outcomes exceeded capacity.

“This culture was a key driver for and enabled unethical behaviour by Garda members who falsified checkpoint data.”

The report estimated the level of inflated breath tests could be almost 1.9m, some 400,000 higher than the 1.5m estimate in the internal Garda report, produced by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan.

The Crowe report highlights some differences between the auditors and the authority on whether or not frontline gardaí were acting under pressure and the case for disciplinary action.

The report is clear, as was Mr McQuillan, that expectation and pressure by management was a key factor.

The report said: “With specific regard to the recording of MIT [Mandatory Intoxicant Testing] data, the pressure to record improving results and unrealistic expectations of performance were central factors which drove the recording of false or inflated information.”

Asked were gardaí acting under pressure, Ms Feehily said she was “not sure” and instead placed emphasis on Garda culture, where members found it “easier to inflate or falsify figures” than to “speak up”.

The authority said that no gardaí should require training on how to be “honest”.

Ms Feehily said she was “dismayed” by the findings and said the commissioner should consider action if there was “prima facie” evidence of disciplinary or criminal breaches.

She said details in the O’Sullivan report, such as phone calls from gardaí on breath test estimates, could provide evidence and that Mr O’Sullivan must have found other evidence the commissioner could consider, in addition to Crowe.

Crowe said Mr O’Sullivan had indicated it would take 21 years to go through the almost 503,000 calls and that such an audit would be a “waste of resources”.

In a statement, Mr Ó Cualáin said the force took the report’s findings “very seriously” saying it highlighted “unacceptable failures” which had damaged public confidence.

He said checkpoints identified by O’Sullivan of “implausible breath-test data” had been referred to regional assistant commissioners for further examination.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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