Michael Clifford: The ethics were a case of ‘if you can get away with it, go for it’

At the rate we’re going, there will soon be a false breath test for every man, woman, and child in the country.

Yesterday, we learned the number of falsified tests is probably around 400,000 more than the 1.5m we were told in September. Six months earlier, it was just 1m.

Whenever somebody roots around within An Garda Síochána, more falsification, lies, and incredible excuses keep tumbling out.

The latest report, by the Policing Authority, is the most damning. It apportions blame at all levels within the force and comes to the conclusion we mightn’t even know the half of it.

“The precise extent of the discrepancy will probably never be known, and in any case the core issue is the fact that such a large discrepancy occurred and developed over a lengthy period before it was noticed,” states the report by Crowe Horwath.

There is little to no chance anybody will have to answer for what can be attributed to our old friends “systemic failure” and “culture”. To audit every call made in relation to breath tests in the force would take 21 years.

Can we identify any cogent reasons why a police force, tasked with upholding the law and maintaining order, could be involved in such widespread deception?

The report does point to pressure from above in the organisation. The pressure was to “feed the beast” to keep numbers looking good.

“No division wanted to be ‘bottom of the league’ and there was often a degree of competition and rivalry between the divisions,” says the report. So one guy looks across the divisional border and sees his competitor’s figures show he’s been breath-testing to beat the band, and he says, ‘By golly, I better get cracking on my falsifications’?

Except, of course, nobody gave explicit instructions to falsify. That would be breaking the law, and, more importantly, leaving a trail.

No questions were asked about crazy numbers being returned. No curiosity was deployed in wondering how so many tests could be
completed by so few cops in so little time.

The report highlights an issue which first appeared in the Irish Examiner last March but was denied by Garda management. A retired garda pointed out that checkpoints that were never set up were also recorded.

After his story appeared in the Irish Examiner, Clare Daly put the issue of false checkpoints to senior management at an Oireachtas justice committee meeting, but was told there was no evidence to that effect.

Funnily enough, Crowe Horwath was able to find the evidence and reported that checkpoints that were not set up were
recorded as valid.

Yesterday, the chair of the Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, pointed out that one of the problems was that members did not appreciate the value of breath-test checkpoints in acting as a deterrent.

“There was no appreciation that there was a reason for collecting the data,” she said.

If that is so, the problems around basic communication within the force are of a different order than ever imagined.

Ms Feehily also touched on the notion of ethics as applied to the national police force. “A lot of what happened here is what you do when nobody is looking.”

The observation is frightening, and grounded in the evidence that has emerged about ethics within the force over recent years.

Put simply, the ethics applied appear to centre on the idea that if you can get away with it, go for it. In such a milieu, is it any wonder that An Garda Síochána has been limping from crisis to crisis at a time when it’s no longer possible to keep all the bad stuff buried.



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