The then chairman of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, Jim Mitchell, described the process as a “scam”. “Anybody who thinks this is not a scam must be blind. We are a laughing stock among defence forces around the world,” he declared. It was and is impossible to disagree with him.
Were the near 150,000 people wrongly summoned to court over fixed-notice motoring issues to seek damages and each be awarded an implausibly modest €2,000 the bill would match the deafness payout. Were the 10% of that 147,000 who were wrongly convicted to successfully sue, the final bill would put the deafness soaking in the ha’penny place.
Remember, some people wrongly convicted lost jobs, some had to emigrate, some, in time might lose their homes. At least two people were wrongly jailed. Next year seems like it might be another bountiful one for the legal profession.
And that’s just the money. It is not hard to imagine a Garda representative at, say, a Europol security meeting cringing with embarrassment as his peers ask them, with a considerable incomprehension and mirth, to explain the fixed charges fiasco or, God forbid, the incredible drink driving figures. The Paddy the Cop jokes will flow but the reputational damage to the country will take years to undo. It may not define us as a rogue state but it shows us in a very unattractive light to those with an interest, business or otherwise, in our country. To borrow a phrase from another scandal — Ireland may well seem the Wild West of policing.
That situation may have consequences beyond those understood. Today we report on a man in Munster who was jailed after an unjustified prosecution. He subsequently emigrated. On Monday we reported on a woman who was sent to Limerick prison in similar circumstances. It would not be surprising if there are more such cases.
The Garda response is to issue a standard letter admitting that “correct procedures were not followed” and seek permission to initiate an appeal. However, as we reported yesterday dozens of wrongly-convicted motorists have refused to co-operate and plan to sue the State. Were a private firm so exposed the company accountant — and its insurers — would toss and turn through many sleepless nights.
That is just one issue tightening the noose. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have asked the Garda Representative Association to substantiate claims gardaí were pressurised to falsify drink test figures. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has also sought clarification. Garda management joined the melee saying any member with evidence of duress being applied should come forward.
If ever there was an issue where all Dáil parties should put aside their differences and work together for the good of the country this is it. We cannot accept an out-of-control, dishonest police force. This runaway train must be stopped.