Garda Commissioner vows to take action in breath test scandal

The Garda Commissioner has told the Policing Authority that consequences arising from the breath test scandal, including possible disciplinary action, will be considered in the coming weeks.

The authority yesterday launched a stinging attack on the “behaviour” of gardaí and the “management” and “culture” of the organisation after it emerged that almost half of the two million breath tests conducted over five years never happened.

The shocking revelation was one of two controversies to hit the Garda yesterday after it emerged that 14,700 drivers were wrongly prosecuted in the courts and given penalty points — exposing the State to financial damages and legal costs in redressing the wrong.

The force’s top traffic officer, Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn apologised to the 14,700 people.

AC Finn said an internal fact-finding investigation was underway to determine “what went wrong” with the breath test scandal — but indicated it would be very difficult to identify gardaí involved in the tests given the lack of records and because devices were shared.

When the Irish Examiner asked the authority was it satisfied that an internal, rather than external, investigation was underway, the authority said it would continue to pursue the issues.

It added: “The authority also sought and received assurances at its meeting with the commissioner this morning that consequences arising from these matters including whether disciplinary action is appropriate would be a matter to be considered over the coming weeks.”

The authority had earlier issued a damning statement on the breath test scandal, saying it raised “serious questions” about the integrity of An Garda Síochána.

On the back of previous concerns about inflated crime statistics, it said it eroded public confidence in Garda data generally.

It said the gap between the number of breath tests gardaí claimed (1,995,369) and the number identified by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (1,058,157) raised a “widespread concern about the way gardaí go about their daily work”.

It said it again raised concerns about management and supervision and said: “In the view of the authority, the scale of the discrepancy is further evidence of deep cultural problems within the Garda service — a culture in which such behaviour was possible.”

Earlier, AC Finn, head of roads policing, said that when they compared Garda data with figures held by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety they discovered a gap of over 937,000 tests, close to half of the total.

He said there was “no one single reason” for the discrepancy, but cited IT deficiencies at the time.

He was repeatedly questioned as to whether or not gardaí had made up the 937,200 breath tests, but would only say the figures did not “add up” and that they “certainly weren’t being recorded correctly”.

When it was put to him that people will think gardaí made up the figures, he said: “That’s a conclusion that people will come to.”

He said an internal fact-finding investigation was underway to establish “what went wrong”, saying this would be the first step to any disciplinary investigation.

On the second controversy, AC Finn revealed that almost 147,000 people were prosecuted for failing to pay a fixed charge notice in situations where they did not first receive a notice to pay or had already paid.

Of these, 14,700 people were given a court penalty.

AC Finn said the gardaí now had to appeal all 14,700 cases in the courts, with significant legal costs, and recompense drivers for penalties imposed and, perhaps, for higher insurance.

1m breath tests ‘never happened’ for drivers

Garda HQ had a stock answer for the obvious question after the latest policing scandal emerged.

At a press briefing yesterday, assistant commissioner Michael Finn, head of Roads Policing, revealed almost a million breath tests — nearly half of all such tests recorded by gardaí over a five-year period — never actually happened. He said that there was “no one single reason” for the “discrepancy”.

He was asked the obvious question: Did gardaí make up those tests?

“I don’t know,” he said, “the figures don’t add up.”

However, did some guards make up the tests? “Certainly, they [the gardaí] weren’t recording them correctly.”

He said the 937,000-odd tests came from more than 400,000 checkpoints, involving over 1,200 devices, all manually recorded using devices shared between gardaí.

Asked again did gardaí make up the figures, he said: “There’s no doubt about it the figures are wrong.”

When it was put to him that the public will think gardaí made them up, he said: “That’s a conclusion that people will come to.”

Was it an unreasonable conclusion? “The numbers don’t add up, that’s a fact.”

Asked what on earth happened, he said: “The numbers don’t add up, I can’t say who directly is responsible for it. I think it’s a corporate thing. I don’t think any individual [is at fault]. We didn’t have the right systems in place. We weren’t policing it properly.”

It’s not that assistant commissioner Finn had any direct responsibility as he was only promoted to the position last November after working elsewhere in the organisation. He said an internal investigation was underway to establish “what went wrong”.

In its statement, the Policing Authority was clear in what went wrong.

It said it was was alarmed at the scale of the discrepancy and said this was not just an academic, statistical, concern but an “ethical one”.

In a statement, it said: “It raises serious questions of integrity for the Garda Síochána organisation, and combined with previous issues regarding inflated activity levels, erodes confidence in the credibility of Garda data generally. It raises a widespread concern in the way gardaí go about their daily work.”

The authority said it also raised concerns about “management and supervision”, echoing findings elsewhere.

And it issued this verdict: “In the view of the authority, the scale of the discrepancy is further evidence of deep cultural problems within the Garda service — a culture in which such behaviour was possible.”

While the authority stopped short of stating gardaí made up the figures, it laid the blame on the “behaviour” of gardaí, the garda “culture” and the lack of “supervision”.

More on this topic

Just 9.2% of banned motorists surrender licenceJust 9.2% of banned motorists surrender licence

Over 600 arrested for drink-driving in FebruaryOver 600 arrested for drink-driving in February

Latest: Road safety campaigner calls on Finian McGrath to resign over drink-driving check criticismsLatest: Road safety campaigner calls on Finian McGrath to resign over drink-driving check criticisms

McGrath withdraws comments about gardaí politicising the new drink driving lawsMcGrath withdraws comments about gardaí politicising the new drink driving laws


Lifestyle

RP O’Donnell says it is hard to find anywhere better than Boston to show your family a great time as he returns to a city he used to call homeA family friendly holiday guide to get the best out of beautiful Boston

More From The Irish Examiner