Inquiry into penalty points finds no deception

A Garda inquiry into the cancellation of penalty points has found there was no corruption or deception in the termination of fines by gardaí but said the system needs to be overhauled.

Three senior members of the force face disciplinary procedures after the inquiry found they may not have followed guidelines on cancelling points.

Opposition party TDs yesterday suggested the inquiry was a whitewash as it was conducted internally by the force.

Alan Shatter, the justice minister, defended the probe, saying it would be forwarded to the Garda inspectorate as well as the Oireachtas justice committee. However, he admitted that some Garda practices on cancelling points “defy logic and common sense”.

The inquiry found that between Jan 2009 and Jun 2012, 66,407 penalties were quashed out of 1.4m. Of those cleared, 37,384 were done so under the use of “discretionary” powers. Questions have been raised about 661 terminations carried out by a superintendent and two inspectors, where some “may not have been conducted strictly within administrative policy and procedure”, the report said.

All three now face internal disciplinary procedures.

A separate inquiry is ongoing into a fourth garda involved in clearing fines.

The report analysed 189 separate allegations by whistleblowers, covering a total of 2,198 cancellations of fixed charge notices.

Several hundred were found to have breached procedure. The two main concerns around those cancelled were that material was created or retained by gardaí and that fines were cancelled outside of their districts.

The report found that 123 cancellations had been for members of the gardaí, and seven for people who had a family connection to a garda. These were done within procedure.

In one case, a district court judge had three notices cancelled on the basis of verbal petitions. A more complete file on the judge’s case would have followed procedure, the report said.

The inquiry carried out by assistant commissioner John O’Mahony found there was no evidence to suggest “any act of criminality, corruption, deception or falsification” carried out by gardaí terminating points.

The report recommends a tightening up of the policy of cancelling points and a rewriting of guidelines. The professional standards unit of the force has also been asked to undertake a review.

Retired garda John Wilson — one of two whistleblowers who raised concerns about the fines system — yesterday dismissed the report. He called for an independent inquiry chaired by a high court judge.

Independent TD Clare Daly, who raised concerns about the fines system in the Dáil, said the same while her colleague, TD Mick Wallace, claimed the inquiry was a “whitewash”.

Mr Shatter said drivers who may have had points inappropriately cancelled would not have them reinstated.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said he was “disappointed” there was less than full compliance with the points system.

He also announced that access to the Garda Pulse computer system, which oversee fines, is being tightened following the inquiry.

Meanwhile, Mr Shatter launched a ferocious attack against controversial TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan over penalty points.

The Independent TD faced criticism when it emerged he had failed to disclose that penalty points against him had been quashed after he helped launch a campaign against the practice.

Mr Shatter accused the deputy of failing to engage with gardaí over the matter.

“During the course of the investigation, the investigating officers arranged to meet Deputy Flanagan,” Mr Shatter said.

“Prior to the arranged meeting, the investigating officers were contacted by his office and were informed that he didn’t wish to engage further with them. My understanding is that their investigation is substantially complete at this stage but the investigating officers are seeking written confirmation of his position in order that the investigation may be completed.”

Mr Flanagan said Mr Shatter was wrong. “No such meeting was either arranged, nor cancelled. I refuse to engage with an investigation whereby the gardaí investigate themselves.

“We need an independent investigation to establish the facts,” he said via Twitter.

High points

The highest rate of penalty points cancellations in 2012:

Kilrush: 9.64%

Claremorris: 7.98%

Roscommon: 7.72%

Ballyshannon: 7.65%

Dun Laoghaire: 7.31%

Bantry: 7.14%

Store Street: 7.13%

Ballina: 7.10%

Average: 4.89%

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