Arrogance of commissioner highlights the need for inquiry

GARDA Commissioner Martin Callinan’s demands that the Public Accounts Committee hand over information given to it by a Garda whistleblower, on the grounds of an alleged breach of data protection, displays an incredible arrogance.

It is the latest in a long list of efforts by the commissioner to minimise and downplay the seriousness of these issues and an example of why the gardaí cannot be left to investigate themselves.

How does the Garda commissioner know what information was given to the PAC, and why did the data protection commissioner act on this assertion without investigating whether the act was in fact breached?

Why is he raising this issue now when both myself and Deputy [Mick] Wallace have made no secret of the fact that we were in possession of substantial information in relation to these matters for over a year?

The fact is that the information was revealed by honest gardaí who utilised all the correct internal channels and procedures available to them in an attempt to get these matters addressed by An Garda Síochána. They were ignored and intimidated at every turn.

It was only when they came to us with this information and we subsequently raised it in the Dáil that pressure was put on the justice minister and Garda commissioner to order an inquiry.

The bringing of this information into the public domain was possible because section 62 of the Garda Síochána Act specifically allows gardaí to give information to members of the Oireachtas when they suspect wrongdoing. This is a good thing for society as there is an overriding public interest in these matters.

The allegations were that a culture of termination of penalty points existed for connected persons, who had influence with certain elements of senior gardaí. A system which has one law for one set of people and one for everyone else is unacceptable: With one group of unconnected people taking their penalty points and seeing their insurance premiums increased, and others “getting off” on repeated occasions.

It is of huge public interest that at least three judges in records that I have seen have had multiple tickets terminated inappropriately. These people are probably hearing road traffic cases and issuing judgments on other drivers. If the prosecuting gardaí had any involvement in the termination of the judges’ penalty points then their decision can be challenged. The impact of these allegations cannot be downplayed.

On top of that, the State, in these austere times, lost millions in potential revenue and the work of honest gardaí trying to enforce traffic management on the ground is being undermined.

These allegations have been largely vindicated despite the efforts of the Garda commissioner, supported by the justice minister, to diminish the importance of this information at every opportunity.

The Garda internal inquiry and the Comptroller & Auditor General’s report have both exposed the culture that was in place. The fact that even the internal inquiry was forced to recommend a new fixed charge manual and system to be commissioned; that three officers would be disciplined; and that a separate investigation would be conducted into the evasion of the mandatory comment box on the Pulse system, shows that even they had to admit that not all was well.

The latest twist comes on the back of the commissioner’s bullish approach to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. GSOC has produced multiple reports showing lack of Garda co-operation — these reports have been dismissed by the commissioner. This serves to reinforce the perception of a culture of secrecy and lack of transparency and accountability within the gardaí, that we were told had changed and which undermines the majority of the honest members of his force. These are issues that should be addressed openly in a modern democratic society.

Is it because the PAC has scheduled a hearing for mid-January with one of the whistleblowers, to which the Garda commissioner has been invited, that Mr Callinan has decided to take a pre-emptive strike?

The need for an independent inquiry into these matters has been highlighted yet again.

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