It would take 28 years to probe all Garda calls on breath tests

Senior gardaí estimate it would cost almost €7m over a period of 28 years to examine all Garda phone calls recording breath tests.

The bill was revealed to the Oireachtas justice committee yesterday where numerous members expressed their disbelief at the inability to discipline any garda for the mass falsification.

The committee also heard that Garda HQ:

  • Is reviewing internal disciplinary procedures after Mr Justice Peter Charleton criticised the effectiveness of the process in an interim report of the Disclosure Tribunal a week ago;
  • Is “examining” the report by the Garda Ombudsman on the cancellation of penalty points — which said there is limited prospect of successful criminal prosecutions — to determine whether any disciplinary proceedings could be taken;
  • Found no evidence that messages of a “sensitive” nature were sent by former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan through her private Gmail account

Assistant commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, who conducted the internal Garda report into the breath test and wrongful traffic convictions, said it would take 28 years to listen back to 502,000 phone calls regarding breath test recordings.

He said this would cost the taxpayer €6.9m. He said this process would need to be undergone to determine where “culpability might lie” and launch disciplinary proceedings.

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said it is “mindboggling” that the public is being told it is too difficult or too expensive to hold people to account.

He described the situation as an “absolute shambles”, adding: “Surely people who run the organisation have to take more responsibility. Ye are kind of in denial.”

Deputy commissioner John Twomey said that at both the justice committee and the Policing Authority, Garda management has taken responsibility, acknowledged failings, and apologised. He said they have now put in measures to make sure similar issues could not happen again.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said he finds it “unbelievable” that no Garda managers knew the inflation was going on at the time.

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly said that at previous meetings, Garda officials present had stated they had no evidence that checkpoints were being falsified.

They said that then, according to Mick Finn, assistant commissioner for roads policing, because they “truthfully believed” that was the case, but accepted that their own internal report and the one by Crowe Horwath (commissioned by the Policing Authority) had later found this.

Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said the breath-test scandal is a “system failure of management” that has done “untold damage”.

He said that failure of management was one of the “greatest disservices” to the organisation. He said it would be “abhorrent and completely wrong” to go after rank-and-file members and would be the “greatest waste of money”.

Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers agreed. In relation to the separate scandal surrounding cancellation of penalty points, he said the €3,000 fine for a superintendent who incorrectly cancelled multiple penalty points was “completely useless” as a sanction.

Mr Twomey noted Mr Justice Charleton has said the disciplinary process needs to be reviewed and said this is a view “we certainly would share”. He said they are now reviewing the process.

Asked by Sinn Féin deputy, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, would he consider taking criminal or disciplinary proceedings on foot of the Garda Ombudsman report into penalty point cancellation, Mr Twomey said that action was taken at the time of the original garda report (three disciplinary proceedings).

Pressed on the point, Mr Twomey said they are “examining the report”, which Mr Ó Laoghaire and committee chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said they took to include consideration of possible action.

Asked about his examination of the private Gmail account of Ms O’Sullivan, Garda chief administrative officer Joe Nugent said he found no evidence “sensitive” official material was sent via it.

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