In a fresh twist in the Garda breath test saga, chief superintendents are challenging moves by acting commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin that they see as unfairly tarnishing them.
The issue emerged after it was revealed at the Oireachtas Justice Committee yesterday that Garda HQ had issued directions to chief superintendent regarding setting up mechanisms for the operation of mandatory alcohol tests — only to withdraw those directions days afterward.
The Association of Garda Chief Superintendents (AGCS) told the Irish Examiner that a letter sent by Mr Ó Cualáin last November referred to the first instruction given in March 2015, and claimed he linked this to the findings of a damning report into the breath test scandal.
The Crowe Horwath report, published last October, refers to a significant failure on the part of chief superintendents to recognise and respond to the problem.
However, the association insist that days after the March 2015 instruction was given, that it was withdrawn — and maintain no further instruction on the matter was issued by Garda HQ. They claim this is not being taken into account by the commissioner or by the Policing Authority.
The spokesman said they met with the authority and its chair Josephine Feehily last December and had written to the commissioner for a meeting — but had yet to get a response.
“We raised our concerns about the Crowe Horwath report and the findings with chief superintendents,” he said. “At the November meeting with the Policing Authority, the commissioner gave a commitment he would write to the chief superintendents.”
The spokesman said this letter referred to the first instruction, but that when association members checked, they found an instruction was issued days after withdrawing the previous directive.
“It was withdrawn as far as we were concerned and no replacement instructions were sent,” he said.
Responding to Labour TD Alan Kelly, who revealed the existence of the email withdrawing the direction at the committee, Policing Authority chief executive Helen Hall said the AGCS had shown them the email at the meeting last December: “First of all, it was saying this is what you need to do and then what we were shown — we weren’t left a copy of it — was to say ‘oh well’ don’t to it.”
Ms Feehily, said the AGCS were “very unhappy” at the tone of the public meeting last November. She said they felt they had been given “a pass” with the second instruction, withdrawing the direction. But she said it did not change the authority’s mind that they bore responsibility as divisional officers.
There was no immediate response from Garda HQ but it is thought the commissioner has met nearly all chiefs personally.