THE first question into the report on fake breath tests by An Garda Siochána is whether we can believe it.
The fact that there were 1.5m fake breath tests recorded over a seven-year period would, under normal circumstances, defy belief, but that is not the matter that requires questioning.
The “believe it or not” question surrounds the whole report.
If form is anything to go by, a final verdict on this report must await the publication of a report on the same issue from an agency outside the force.
In this case, that will be available later this month with a report on the fake breath tests and erroneous fixed charge prosecutions, commissioned by the Policing Authority.
Form suggests any report by the force into its own workings, and particularly one where management is directly under the microscope, needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt.
Look at the internal Garda report in 2014 into the ticket fixing controversy. It found there was nothing to see here, bar a few lads losing the run of themselves. Three officers were singled out in that report.
Only when the Comptroller and Auditor General and then the Garda Inspectorate published their reports on the matter was the shortcomings of the force’s passing glance in the mirror laid bare.
There are some worrying features this time around. The manner in which the report was leaked is a case of déjà vu all over again.
As with previous reports, the first peek at it was through the lens of an RTÉ news report. Was it leaked to take the edge of things?
The other blast from the past concerns accountability. It now appears that a few rank and file gardaí are the only ones who will face disciplinary action over their contribution to the great fake breath test
Once more, culpability lies with a few bad apples in the bright, shining barrel.
The instinctive apportioning of blame on those at the lowest rung of the force might lead one to conclude that An Garda Siochána would be a terrific agency if we could just get rid of the frontline gardaí.
Three areas of fault were identified by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan in this report:
- Systems failure;
- An inability to understand garda policy;
- Governance and oversight failures.
There is precious little in the report about the absence of basic tenets of management, not to mention basic human curiosity.
For instance, in the South East region, the breath tests were inflated by 158%. This region includes Waterford, Wexford, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Carlow.
Yet in the Wexford district, the inflation was only 5%. Did anybody in regional HQ ever wonder why Wexford was underperforming compared to neighbouring districts? Did anybody notice the huge difference between districts in terms of tests done?
Did anybody in headquarters, and particularly in the Garda National Traffic Bureau wonder about the huge discrepancies in incidences of testing between, for instance Dublin West, where there was inflation of 495%, and the boys of Wexford, who must have seemed positively lazy, yet, as it turns, out nearly honest?
Nobody paid any attention while the numbers were clocking up. These numbers all contributed to the glowing self-assessment of garda activity at bank holiday weekends and the Christmas season.
At these times of heightened activity, the Garda press office regularly issued releases pointing to the huge number of tests performed in order to keep the roads safe. All fake news it would now appear.
IT MIGHT well be concluded that this scandal remained buried for so long because everybody looked the other way, ensuring that nothing untoward would erupt on their watch at district, regional or national level which might impact negatively on further advancement.
Everybody was passing through. One who did a stint at the Garda National Traffic Bureau during the time at issue was John Twomey. He served as head of the bureau between 2010 and 2012. Now he is deputy commissioner.
What rigor was applied in questioning the deputy commissioner as to his lack of his knowledge about what was going on when he was head of traffic?
The same goes for those who preceded and succeeded him in the role between 2009 and 2015.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan expressed himself “greatly disturbed” at the contents of the report.
Yet, Charlie is holding back until he sees what an outside agency has to say about fake breath tests and the fixed charge notice prosecutions.
“I look forward to receiving the report of the Policing Authority into both of these issues,” he said. “This report is due in the coming weeks. I will take all appropriate action when this report is submitted to me.”
We are now at a juncture where even the minister for justice is cautious about accepting the word of senior management in An Garda Siochána.