‘Culture of expectation’ to keep breath test figures high in gardaí

A Policing Authority report on the breath test scandal is due to say there was a “culture of expectation” in the force to keep figures high.

‘Culture of expectation’ to keep breath test figures high in gardaí

Authority chair Josephine Feehily said the audit by Crowe Howarth was likely to report that, while there was no evidence of directives from managers, there was an “implicit expectation” of frontline members regarding their performance of breath tests.

An internal Garda report estimated that between 106,177 and 318,530 tests were “inflated” by members between 2009 and 2017.

The development has led to the first public clash with acting commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, who was questioned by media afterwards.

Asked if he agreed that there was an implicit expectation, the acting commissioner said: “Based on the evidence I have, at this point in time, no I do not.”

Mr O Cualáin is due to appear today before a public meeting with the Policing Authority, his first as acting commissioner.

Ms Feehily made the comments at the Oireachtas justice committee, where its chairman, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, claimed frontline members were “clearly acting under direction” and that knowledge of the falsification of the 1.4m breath tests “went to the very top”.

The expected finding from the Crowe Howarth audit appears to give some support to the views of frontline gardaí.

The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has claimed its members were put under “pressure” and “duress” by managers to elevate the tests.

Ms Feehily said the authority was “particularly concerned” at the GRA claims. She said they were “serious allegations” that need to be “stood up”.

“I’d be keen to see disciplinary action if there is evidence of duress,” she said, calling on the GRA to produce the evidence.

She said it was “a pity they didn’t say that earlier” and said Crowe Howarth had invited the GRA for another meeting. She said the audit was likely to identify a culture around expectation.

“Rather than specific formal directives that ‘we expect you to do X, Y and Z’, a culture of expectation seems to be something they will identify when they report to us,” she said.

“Maybe the GRA may be saying something similar.”

In an exchange with Mr Ó Caoláin, she said: “They are likely to report to us that there was an implicit expectation in relation to breath tests rather than an explicit direction.”

She said it was “difficult to imagine” that knowledge of such an enormous discrepancy would not have been known at “various levels”.

She said the report was likely to find that a “certain performance was expected” in relation to breath tests.

Mr O’Caoláin said there would be “a lot of incredulity” if the implicit expectation finding was the “fine line” and “last word” on the matter.

Ms Feehily said the authority would examine the report and said there “may be other indicators” that might support one view or the other.

Independents 4 Change TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly criticised the authority for failing to recommend to the Government the removal of Nóirín O’Sullivan — but Ms Feehily said the bar for making such a recommendation was “extremely high”.

Ms Feehily said she regretted the sudden retirement of Ms O’Sullivan, saying she had a “huge commitment to reform”.

She said the process to appoint the next commissioner was now “up in the air” after the dramatic intervention of the Policing Commission on Monday.

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