Breath test report set to highlight Garda culture

Garda management will come under renewed pressure today, with a Policing Authority report expected to highlight a culture in the organisation to keep breath test figures high.

The report, conducted by auditors Crowe Horwath on behalf of the authority, is also expected to criticise Garda management for failing to detect the scale of fake breath tests earlier and to take corrective action.

The 86-page review, including a 10-page commentary by the authority, on both the breath test and the fixed charge notice controversies is being published this afternoon.

An internal Garda report, conducted by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan and published in early September, identified some 1.5m fake breath tests over an eight-year period between 2009 and 2017.

He identified a range of factors, including inflation by gardaí, IT, and recording problems, a lack of supervision, poor policy and “pressure” (intentional or inadvertent) from management.

At the end of September, authority chair Josephine Feehily told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that Crowe Horwath had identified a “culture of expectation” in the force — and that this was more an “implicit expectation than an explicit direction”.

She said it was likely the report would identify that a “certain performance was expected” of members with breath tests.

Commenting on Ms Feehily’s appearance before the committee, acting commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin said that, based on the evidence he had at that stage, he did not think there was an implicit expectation.

The auditors have conducted further work since Ms Feehily’s appearance and had a subsequent meeting with the Garda Representative Association which claimed its members were acting under duress.

It is understood that the findings of Crowe Horwath have not substantially changed since, but have developed and are more detailed — and may also highlight other issues that did not emerge in questioning at the Oireachtas committee.

There have been calls for disciplinary action to be taken against any garda members involved in falsified or inflating breath tests — and the O’Sullivan report has been sent to divisions for that purpose.

However, associations representing various ranks have expressed concern at this process given the difficulty in identifying members and the range of factors, including pressure, involved in the problem.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan last night confirmed that the Department of Justice had received the Crowe-Howarth report yesterday and that he is “now considering its findings and recommendations”.

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