Officers blame tech and training for breath test figures

Senior officers do not believe frontline gardaí deliberately falsified breath test numbers and that the problem stemmed from members being overworked, together with a lack of proper equipment and training.

Officers blame tech and training for breath test figures

President of the Association of Garda Superintendents Noel Cunningham said the problem was definitely not a “cultural one” and that gardaí were acting “in a responsible manner”.

The view of the AGS chief appears to be at odds with that of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, who has described the fake figures as being the result of “at best incompetence and, at worst, deception”.

Speaking at the AGS annual conference in Naas, Co Kildare, Mr Cunningham did admit there was “pressure” to have a presence on the roads during 2012 to 2016, but did not believe there was a “numbers game”.

It emerged last March that almost half of the 2m breath tests conducted were fake.

On other issues, Supt Cunningham said:

  • Gardaí have “no idea” how Brexit will impact on the organisation, but that it would need extra resources to deal with it;
  • That the existence of IS activists in Ireland was a “new departure” for the country and more community gardaí were needed to liaise with minority communities;
  • That frontline gardaí were dealing with a “more violent” policing environment and that any measures to protect them would be welcome.

Supt Cunningham, based in the Monaghan division, was of the view that the falsified breath tests were the result of workload, not deliberate falsification.

“I think so, I believe so,” he said. “I don’t think anybody was setting out to say ‘I did X, when I did Y.’ I believe members were acting in a responsible manner in that they were doing these checkpoints. They were trying to identify drunk drivers, they were trying to make the roads safer and that’s what our function was — what we were trying to do. It wasn’t about numbers.”

Supt Cunningham, who represents the country’s 160 superintendents, said this happened at a time when resources were “hugely depleted” and that the gardaí involved were “multi-functioning”.

He said: “They were going from breath tests to assaults, to domestic disputes, to road traffic accidents, to anything they could be called to. They then had to go back at the end of their tour and record all of their functions, all of their duties.

“They are expected to respond to something that happens as it happens. Do they remember: ‘Did I check 10 people? Did I check 20 people?’ Is it relevant? If it is relevant, then give us the technology to provide that information, that accurate information to those who require it.”

Supt Cunningham said he did not believe it was a numbers’ game.

“Certainly, pressure was kept on to ensure there was a presence on the roads, and that was during difficult times.”

He added: “There was no training going on, there was a lack of supervision.”

In relation to Brexit, he said gardaí had “no idea” what the impact was going to be on the organisation and crime — but that extra resources would be needed.

“The one thing you can be sure of is that where there is a border there are criminal groups who will take advantage of that border and it is essential that we are properly resourced to do that job.”

He said it was a “whole new departure” for the force to have “members of ISIS” in Ireland. He said it was vitally important that gardaí are resourced to engage with minority communities.

“They don’t want to engage in terrorism and it is as much in their interest as anyone else to identify these people who are trying to take advantage of situations and in fact reflect badly on them.”

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