‘Unfair’ to target frontline gardaí in breath-test scandal

Frontline gardaí and supervisors are expected to fight any attempt by management — acting under Government pressure — to single them out for disciplinary action for the inflation of breath-test figures.

‘Unfair’ to target frontline gardaí in breath-test scandal

Frontline gardaí and supervisors are expected to fight any attempt by management — acting under Government pressure — to single them out for disciplinary action for the inflation of breath-test figures, writes Cormac O'Keeffe.

A range of Garda sources said it would be “unfair” to target those on the frontline when the Garda report on the breath-test scandal cited a range of other contributing factors — including recording problems, the absence of training, lack of supervision, and pressures from their bosses to keep figures high.

Sources also said it would be impossible to identify all gardaí involved in possible inflating as one member typically gave the breath-test figures for all gardaí involved in a checkpoint.

Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said disciplinary action would be an “appropriate” course of action for the Garda Commissioner to take in relation to those responsible for inflating.

And Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan told the Sunday Independent yesterday that when he had hauled senior Garda management into his office last week, he told them that he wanted those responsible for “misdemeanours” and “negligence” punished for bringing the force into disrepute.

The breath-test report by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan has been sent to regional assistant commissioners for further examination and investigation. This will be passed down to chief superintendents, as only they can initiate disciplinary action.

The O’Sullivan report estimated that between 106,177 and 318,530 breath tests were “inflated” by members between 2009 and 2017.

It was able to identify 2,131 specific checkpoints where potentially 69,644 breath tests had been inflated.

Garda sources said a single garda would have created an incident on Pulse for each of those checkpoints and that their identity could be found through the registration number attached to each of those incidents.

Sources explained that each checkpoint could have an average of four to six gardaí, indicating around 10,000 gardaí in all. They said there would not be a record of who the other 8,000 gardaí were.

“It would be grossly unfair to pinpoint blame on the garda creating the incident, if you could not identify the other gardaí at the checkpoint, as how could you prove who had inflated,” said one source. “That person would be a scapegoat.”

Another source said that no disciplinary process could be sustained if one of the members was blamed for all of those on the checkpoint.

He also pointed out that the O’Sullivan report highlighted a range of factors.

“He said there were recording problems, policy problems, supervision problems, training problems and an expectation from chiefs and superintendents of results.”

Another source said: “It [the investigation] will fall down on basic fairness. You can’t blame one person for the actions of all those on the checkpoint.”

Sources also said people should await the findings of the Policing Authority-commissioned investigation into the matter, due in weeks.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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