Garda brand is tainted — it’s time to start again

The time has come to put an end to An Garda Síochána. The brand is now so battered, bruised and tarnished, public confidence in it has been so irreparably damaged that nothing short of a rebrand is required.

The findings of the force’s internal report this week were shocking on many levels, but what was most shocking was the lack of outrage and anger from within Government.

“We have become totally anaesthetised to all these Garda scandals. The finding of another half a million fake tests didn’t shock me,” said one senior Cabinet minister.

But the details are outrageous.

Up to a fifth of all phantom breath tests recorded by gardaí over an eight-year period were “inflated” by members, the internal Garda examination suggested.

The report established that a total of 1,458,221 more breath tests were recorded on the Garda Pulse system than were actually carried out by testing devices.

The report said that, based on an analysis of a random sample, between 106,177 and 318,530 breath tests were “inflated” — corresponding to between 7% and 22% of the overall number of false breath tests.

The report, conducted by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, established that 3,498,400 breath tests were recorded on Pulse between June 2009 and April 2017 — but that only 2,040,179 breath tests were recorded on the Drager devices used.

The 100-page examination into Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoints said this reflected a 71% overestimation of the real number of breath tests.

In addition to recording issues, Mr O’Sullivan said: “It is an inescapable conclusion that much of this statistical anomaly occurred as a result of inflation of PULSE data by members.”

He said an “environment” existed where the discrepancies identified were “allowed to happen without intervention”.

Mr O’Sullivan said there was a combination of factors, including “deficiencies in technology and data controls, resources, supervision, policy and procedures and training”.

He said the failure to provide accurate data on this area “reflects poorly on the professionalism” of gardaí.

“That the evidence also suggests members of An Garda Síochána were also engaged in inflating this data, whether intentional or unintentional, is even more damaging to public confidence.”

Incredibly, O’Sullivan’s report found massive differences in the level of over-recording between divisions.

The rates varied from 18% in Wexford to as high as 385% in Tipperary — divisions that are within the same South Eastern Region (average +142%, the highest of all regions).

Likewise, in Dublin (average +47%), the rates ranged from +17% in DMR Southern to a high of +373% in Dublin Western.

It is truly staggering that the force charged with law and order has been guilty of such widespread falsification of data.

So unreliable is the information that another arm of the State — the Central Statistics Office — has decided for a second time not to publish Garda crime statistics.

As we reported in our lead story yesterday, the decision was made after Garda bosses told the CSO they had ongoing doubts over the quality of their homicide data — and wanted to carry out a “deeper” examination.

And what have we had from Government? A few strong words of condemnation and little else.

No action.

On one level, it speaks volumes that the Government of the day has such little confidence in the force that it has to rely on the independent police authority to verify the true scale of the scandal within the force.

But when it comes to accountability, we have had nothing other than vague comments that someone somewhere, if found guilty, should at some stage in the future face non-specified disciplinary action.

It is not good enough.

Now certainly, internally, there is considerable unease about the entire affair. But because of some reluctance to waver from expressing confidence in the commissioner, public statements have been remarkably passive and weak.

And, lest we forget, this latest scandal is not an isolated incident.

This country has been engulfed in a series of justice crises since late 2012 when the wiping of penalty points of famous people first came to light.

It is incredible that three plus years into the Nóirín O’Sullivan reign, we are no closer to the end of these scandals than when we were when she succeeded her old pal Martin Callinan.

Inevitably, the latest revelations have led to further calls for her to resign.

I have long held the view that Ms O’Sullivan is not fit for office and should be removed.

It has come to light from sources within government that Leo Varadkar strongly considered making her removal one of his first acts as Taoiseach, but that he was talked down off that ledge.

“He did consider it, he felt initially it would send a strong message but obviously it didn’t happen in the end,” said a senior Government source.

But this breath test issue goes to the heart of every district, every division, every town in Ireland.

We have heard enough of the platitudes that most gardaí do a good job and all that guff.

This was a rampant corruption of the process by the very ones entrusted with keeping law and order.

The report of the Policing Authority on this scandal is highly anticipated and is due shortly, and should it find even more damaging revelations, then it should exercise its powers and remove all those responsible from their posts.

While the Government can certainly withdraw confidence in a commissioner, the Policing Authority has had the power to remove the commissioner and deputy commissioners since January 2016.

Since January 2017 the authority has also had the power to hire and fire assistant commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents.

The force has been dragged kicking and screaming into reforming but at this stage it is too little too late.

What is needed is a fresh start. A new name for the force.

What is needed is a new management, free of the highly questionable practices and cultures of the past and most importantly proper oversight structures from the start.

Public confidence in the force has been so badly shaken and drastic measures are now needed to restore that confidence.

Put it this way, between redundancies and new systems, the cost of replacing the RUC with the PSNI ran to about €500m.

That saw about 4,000 officers made redundant and there is no suggestion that a change to a new force would cost anywhere near that.

It would be a large sum of money and people would say such revenues are badly needed elsewhere.

Yet, I make the point that we, at this stage, cannot afford not to do it.

So, with the inaction from Government and the prevaricating from Fianna Fáil, for now we await the publication of the Police Authority report.

And after that, Ms O’Sullivan will have to attend before the Disclosures Tribunal later in the autumn which could be explosive.

The bottom line is that the people of Ireland deserve an awful lot better from its political class and from its police force than what we have had to endure in recent times.

The time for codology is over.

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