Dáil committee hears why 89% of disqualified drivers continue to drive on the roads

Garda commissioner, Drew Harris, and senior officers have been accused of putting road users' lives at risk after it emerged that they are failing to stop nine out of every 10 disqualified drivers from continuing to drive on Irish roads.

Dáil committee hears why 89% of disqualified drivers continue to drive on the roads

Garda commissioner, Drew Harris, and senior officers have been accused of putting road users' lives at risk after it emerged that they are failing to stop nine out of every 10 disqualified drivers from continuing to drive on Irish roads.

Mr Harris admitted the shock figures during a wide-ranging Dáil public accounts committee meeting, blaming the problem on the existing system which asks disqualified drivers to hand in their licence instead of taking it from them.

During a meeting which also heard that gardaí are in talks with Revenue over VAT issues and failed to tell GSOC before launching its new anti-corruption internal unit, Mr Harris was questioned by Fine Gael TD Peter Burke about road safety.

Asked by Mr Burke to clarify how many of the 83,000 disqualified drivers are still on the roads, Mr Harris confirmed that just 11% have been removed over the past eight years - meaning that nine out of every 10 disqualified drivers remain behind the wheel.

Confirming figures put forward by the Fine Gael TD, Mr Harris said that while the licence removal rate increased to 13% last year it was as low as 7% in 2012, and accepted Mr Burke's claim that the situation is a "crisis point for the administration of justice".

Mr Harris said the main problem is that, under existing rules, disqualified drivers are asked to go to a garda station to hand in their licence, and that new technology may be introduced to identify drivers who should not be on the roads.

However, hitting out at the excuse, Mr Burke said gardaí should be pro-active and remove the licences themselves, later telling the Irish Examiner that between 11 and 14 people die on the roads every year during crashes involving disqualified drivers.

File photo of a Garda checkpoint.
File photo of a Garda checkpoint.

The road safety concerns were raised during a meeting which also heard Mr Harris and garda chief administrative officer, Joe Nugent, confirm that the gardaí have been in touch with the Revenue Commissioner over financial issues at the Garda College.

Asked by Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy if there have been any discussions between the bodies, Mr Nugent said a settlement is being discussed linked to salary and VAT issues on the sale of items at the campus.

Meanwhile, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris admitted that he and senior officials failed to contact GSOC before launching their anti-corruption internal unit this week.

Facing criticism from Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane that the new unit will be "the gardaí investigating the gardaí", Mr Harris said this is not the case and insisted that he has a good relationship with the independent GSOC team.

During the same meeting, Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey told unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly that just 2,200 of the 14,700 people caught up in the penalty points scandal two years ago have been told they were wrongly convicted to date.

The PAC meeting also heard Mr Harris confirm to Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell that he was accompanied by an armed "close protection unit" from Northern Ireland during an incident last month while he was driving to the Republic.

Mr Harris separately said that the 15-minute "parade" payment given to gardaí every day before coming on duty - provided to prevent a strike three years ago - is costing €28m a year.

However, while confirming to Labour TD Alan Kelly that one garda received €76,000 in overtime last year, the Garda Commissioner said total overtime costs have been cut by €6m in the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018.

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