Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Update 8.20pm: The Irish government is planning a "Patten-like commission" to overhaul its scandal-ridden police force, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed.

In the strongest indication to date that the Garda is facing unprecedented root-and-branch reforms amid scandal after scandal, Ms Fitzgerald evoked the commission that heralded the end of the RUC in the North.

"Because of the range of issues that have emerged in relation to An Garda Siochána, we should establish an independent Patten-like commission to analyse precisely the future of An Garda Siochána," she said.

The Patten commission was an independent body set up under the Good Friday Agreement peace deal, chaired by former Conservative politician Chris Patten, which radically altered policing in the North.

Sweeping reforms saw the Police Service of Northern Ireland replace the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

In the Republic, the Garda has been mired in countless controversies in recent years, despite the long-running Morris Tribunal into police corruption a decade ago promising a new beginning to policing, openness and accountability.

Calls have been made in the past by Opposition parties, including minority government party Fine Gael when it was out of power, for Patten-style reforms.

But Ms Fitzgerald is the first serving Justice Minister to openly signal in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, an imminent overhaul on the scale of the North's.

She is also facing questions about how long she knew about the latest controversies to beset the Garda, including the gross exaggeration of drink-driving statistics and thousands of drivers being wrongly prosecuted for motoring offences.

In response, Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised a "thorough, independent and comprehensive" review including a "root-and-branch" examination of the force.

Update 6.45pm: The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice & Equality has addressed the latest issues around breath tests and the wrongful court convictions of people for speeding in the Dáil this evening.

Frances Fitzgerald says she was unaware of the scale of the latest crisis in the Gardaí until last week.

"I did not become aware of the huge discrepancy in the breath test figures until it was revealed at last week’s Garda press conference," she said.

She broke her silence in the Dáil tonight, saying her department was first told in the summer of 2014 that the concerns about breath tests had been examined and no issue was found.

"An Garda Siochána indicated in a detailed letter to my Department in May 2014 that they had looked into the claims regarding MAT checkpoints and they were satisfied that correct procedures were in place to account for MAT checkpoints that ultimately did go ahead."

She says in a letter last year she was informed that an audit had now been launched, and was informed last month that the review would not be concluded until June.

"In June of last year my Department was made aware that some discrepancies had been identified in relation to Mandatory Alcohol Testing and that An Garda Síochána was commencing a national audit," she said.

"An Garda Síochána indicated in June 2016 that no issues stemmed from this audit in relation to the performance of MAT checkpoints or prosecutions arising from same."

The Tánaiste says she found out how big a problem this was, when Gardai revealed it last Thursday.

"The scale and detail of these issues became apparent last week at the Garda press conference. I am determined that all the facts will emerge."

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Update 6.30pm: The Policing Authority says it has not yet been provided with the full internal reports from Gardaí into the current issues around breath tests and the wrongful court convictions of people for speeding.

The Authority says this is despite several months of questioning.

It also says it has also not been provided with a clear sense of how these matters have been handled to date.

"The Authority is being briefed on the outcome of today’s Government meeting and will engage further with the Tánaiste to play its part in both the proposed external investigation into these specific matters and the independent root and branch review of the Garda Síochána," the statement added.

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Update 6pm: Independents-4-Change TD Clare Daly says people need to be held accountable for the Garda crisis rather than a root and branch review.

"I mean a review is actually the last thing we need because there's been so many reviews, so many excellent analyses and investigations done already.

"We need the implementation of some of those recommendations and the problem we have here is that the Government are paying the price for the lack of reform actually.

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Update 5.30pm: Alan Farrell, Fine Gael TD and member of the Justice Oireachtas Committee, says a thorough investigation is warranted to restore public confidence.

"The information that is in the public domain thoroughly erodes the trust in the confidence of the Gardaí certainly in terms of magnitude.

"A million breath tests being reported when that never actually took place really undermines the Gardaí in their day-to-day jobs, and I think it does fall on us in the Oireachtas to review how Gardaí are behaving in these recording matters."

Update 4.28pm: The Tánaiste and Justice Minister will answer questions on the Garda crisis in the Dáil tonight.

Frances Fitzgerald will face the opposition after the Cabinet declared confidence in Noirín O'Sullivan.

An independent external root and branch review of the Gardaí has been suggested as part of dealing with the one million fake breath tests scandal, along with people being wrongly convicted in court of speeding offences.

Update 4pm: A statement has been issued by the Government in relation to mandatory alcohol testing and fixed charge notices.

"The Government received a detailed briefing from the Tánaiste this morning on the recent revelations regarding the Garda handling of matters relating to Mandatory Alcohol Testing and Fixed Charge Notices," the statement says.

"We also noted the recent public explanations given by senior Gardaí, including the Garda Commissioner.

"There was a consensus in that discussion that these revelations have given rise to the most serious concerns, not just among public representatives but also the general public.

"It is a matter of great importance to our country that the Government, the Oireachtas and all citizens can trust members of An Garda Síochána to carry out their duties fairly and impartially, and in accordance with the law.

    "It is crucial that the public can believe statistics and other information provided by An Garda Síochána.

"It is absolutely essential that a process of reform is rigorously implemented in An Garda Síochána, and that it is seen to be implemented, including through close oversight by the Policing Authority.

"The Government has introduced a range of important reforms to policing in the State in recent years, including the establishment of a Policing Authority, additional powers for GSOC, greater civilianisation and open recruitment and the provision of significant extra resources.

"The Garda Commissioner has also instituted a significant programme of internal reorganisation and reform, which is being overseen by the Policing Authority and the Government also restates its confidence in the Commissioner today.

    "A series of unacceptable revelations about the operations of the Gardaí continue to emerge, with the Mandatory Alcohol Testing and Fixed Charge Notices being the latest. Notwithstanding any internal review the Government believes that an external investigation into these two specific matters needs be carried out.

"The Government believes the level of public concern is now so profound that it may now be time to conduct a thorough, comprehensive and independent root-and-branch review of An Garda Síochána. That is clearly a proposal that will require further detailed consideration by the Government.

"Government also believes that any such proposal should command widespread support in the Oireachtas and accordingly be the subject of consultation with the Opposition, and ultimately approval by the Oireachtas.

"The Tánaiste will revert to the Government on all of these issues next week."

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Update 2.45pm: The Cabinet has agreed to set up yet another external review of controversies in An Garda Síochána and an independent assessment of all garda statistics, writes Daniel McConnell Political Editor.

This was announced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil this afternoon. Ministers have also agreed to examine garda structures, Mr Kenny said.

Mr Kenny said Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan was entitled to the confidence of the Government and rebuffed strong calls for her to resign in the Dáil.

“This is not about an individual but the structure of An Garda Siochana,” Mr Kenny said.

There were rowdy scenes in the Dáil as the Opposition declared they had no confidence in the Garda Commissioner and demanded her sacking.

It was also noteworthy that no member of the Independent Alliance was in the Dáil chamber during Leaders' Questions.

Earlier, several major Government events were delayed because of an overrun of the weekly Cabinet meeting, which according to sources was “hot and heavy” over the Garda controversy.

More to follow.

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Update 1pm: There could be three motions of no confidence in the Garda Commissioner laid before the Dáil.

Along with Sinn Féin's motion and one from Labour, the 'Solidarity - People Before Profit' grouping is drafting one too.

"It is beyond belief that Noirín O'Sullivan can say even if the Dáil votes no confidence in her she intends to stay where she is and there's nothing the Dáil can do about that. That is an affront and insult to democracy," said Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

Fianna Fáil says it is still not in a position to express confidence in the Garda Commissioner.

The party says it wants to hear further from Noirín O'Sullivan when she appears before the Oireachtas Committee on Thursday.

It also says Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald needs to answer questions in the Dáil after five days of silence.

"I want to hear from Francis Fitzgerald in respect of when she and the government first became aware of the issues in respect of the breath tests," said Justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan.

"When did the government become aware that the garda figures were inaccurate or misleading, and what did the government do in respect of that? That's an issue that doesn't just affect the Tánaiste, it also affects Minister Varadkar, I think, when he was Minister for Transport."

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Update 12.50pm: The embattled Garda Commissioner,Noirin O'Sullivan, has confirmed to the Oireachtas Justice Committee that she will appear before them on Thursday morning at 9am, writes Daniel McConnell.

Fianna Fail has said it does not have confidence in Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and would remove her if they were in office.

The party's front bench is meeting this lunchtime to discuss the ongoing crisis surrounding the Commissioner and its Justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan says better answers need to be forthcoming.

Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman Michael McGrath says the party will consider its options after the Garda Commissioner gives evidence at the justice committee on Thursday.

Mr O' Callaghan also said they wanted to hear from Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald on what she knew about the controversy. He also indicated it would be an issue if there were any further surprises.

Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said the process of reform, as outlined yesterday by Nóirín O'Sullivan, is the start of the process to find out what happened.

He said there has to be a very full investigation, adding he has confidence in the Garda's ability to deal with it.

However, he said he has questions as to why, when the incorrect statistics were raised in 2014, it has taken so long to follow that up.

Speaking on RTE Radio, Independent4Change TD Clare Daly said Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan has shown "an incredible brass neck" in her response to the latest revelations involving the force. Ms Daly said it is incredible that the commissioner would use words like "transparency" when she knew the hierarchy "knew for some time" and kept the controversy from the Policing Authority, and perhaps even the Minister for Justice.

Ms Daly added that the public is paying the price for the lack of reform in the policing system.

Update 12pm: The Labour party want all senior Gardaí to go and not just Commissioner Noirín Ó Sullivan and has called for a new management structure within the force, writes Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin believes those at Deputy Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner levels must be changed and his party will be meeting to discuss a motion around this later today.

Speaking in Leinster House this morning, Mr Howlin said: "Bluntly I don't have confidence that the current Garda management is up for the task of the type of reforms that are needed."

Asked if Ms O'Sullivan should step down he said: "I don't think it's just a matter of her going, I think she should, I think we need a new management structure in An Garda Síochána and that will mean the Department of Justice, the Minister for Justice setting out the strategy to achieve that."

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

He said the solution is not "simply replacing the current Garda Commissioner with another one" as he said that had been done in recent years, instead a cultural change is needed.

"I think a more fundamental alternation of management than simply replacing an individual [is needed]"

Mr Howlin said he has "difficulties" with the Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Commissioner O'Sullivan but said the Labour parliamentary party will meet this afternoon to consider a motion which would look at "restoring trust in policing in this country".

He defended the appointment of Ms Sullivan when his party were in Government as he claimed it was "appropriate" at the time to accept the recommendation of the independent panel.

"We have moved on in the last three years, we know more and I think now, specifically in the light of the very broad ranging recommendation from the Garda Inspectorate which will alter policing in this country fundamentally.

"There is a need for a transformed management structure of An Garda Síochána that couldn't have been envisaged three years ago," Mr Howlin said.

Update 11.30am: The Labour leader has refused to reveal whether he will back Sinn Féin's motion of no confidence in Noirín O'Sullivan.

Brendan Howlin says they need a widescale change of management in the force, instead of focusing on just one person.

"The motion of confidence is a fortnight away. They say a week is a long time in politics, much will have changed in the next fortnight," he said.

"We need a change of management. But to replace the current commissioner with the new commissioner all will be well - I don't believe that."

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Earlier: Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has been thrown a lifeline to save her job after Fianna Fáil backed away from supporting a no-confidence motion mooted by opposition parties which would effectively force her to resign, writes Cormac O'Keeffe and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

After Ms O’Sullivan failed to answer key questions on how almost one million drink-driving tests were falsified and instead announced a three-month review into the scandal, Fianna Fáil said it is still unable to support the commissioner.

However, the party’s justice spokesman, Jim O’Callaghan, backed away from supporting a no-confidence motion in the commissioner, instead taking aim at Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

Latest: Commission to examine ways of reforming scandal-hit Gardaí

Sinn Féin published a motion of no confidence that it plans to put down by mid-April, with Labour due to discuss a similar move at its weekly parliamentary party meeting today.

Mr O’Callaghan questioned whether such a vote would be legal. He said the Cabinet — which would come under intense pressure to remove Ms O’Sullivan if the majority of the Dáil voted for her to go — is ultimately the only group which can remove a commissioner.

Noting that the Fianna Fáil front bench needs to discuss the matter further today and that Ms O’Sullivan has left “crucial questions unanswered”, Mr O’Callaghan instead targeted Ms Fitzgerald, saying she must answer questions on her role in the affair today.

The development came as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fine Gael ministers continued to voice support for Ms O’Sullivan, who was defiant yesterday that she will not step down even if the Dáil votes for her to resign.

Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference after an unscheduled two-hour Department of Justice meeting with Ms Fitzgerald, Ms O’Sullivan said she accepted accountability for the crisis went from the “top to the bottom and back up”.

Announcing a three-month review into the breath-test scandal, to be led by newly promoted assistant commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, she said An Garda Síochána needs “strong, visible leadership”.

Asked three times if she would step down if the Dáil voted for her to do so, Ms O’Sullivan said: “I have a journey of work that I have to do. I have to make sure I see out that commitment.”

She refused to say there was mass falsification involved in the almost one million phantom breath tests that were recorded between 2011 and 2016, and that the three-month review will establish “who did what and how did it happen”.

Ms O’Sullivan said she wants to “assure the public if we identify any individual or group of individuals, they will be addressed” and that “pointing the finger” will extend to those in managerial roles.

Questioned on whether gardaí made up the breath tests and essentially engaged in fraud, she declined to answer, but said they were “serious issues” which the three-month investigation must resolve.

She said: “The integrity of each individual member of An Garda Síochána is on the line.”

The internal investigation is due to be given to the independent Policing Authority and Department of Justice by June, and is likely to give Ms O’Sullivan breathing space to address the latest scandal to hit the force.

While the possibility of the commissioner being forced from office by a no-confidence motion in the Dáil has reduced, the risk of a Cabinet split on the issue remains.

Mr Kenny, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, Education Minister Richard Bruton, and Ms Fitzgerald are continuing to publicly back Ms O’Sullivan. However, Independent Alliance junior minister John Halligan last night said the situation “is not acceptable”.

Noting the fact the Independent Alliance will meet privately this morning before releasing its own statement after Cabinet, he said: “We need to bring this to a close one way or the other, for the sake of the gardaí.”

Ms Fitzgerald met with Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily earlier yesterday to discuss the fall-out from the crisis.

The Oireachtas justice committee has also asked Ms O’Sullivan to attend a crunch meeting on the issue this Thursday.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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