Garda breath-test scandal: Shocking report not surprising

THE latest report into the Garda breath-test scandal is shocking but not surprising.

Shocking because it confirms the existence of an apathy at the highest levels of An Garda Siochána towards wrongdoings by its members, something that should never be allowed stand in any properly run police force. Not surprising because, in a very real way, we have heard it all before.

The report commissioned by the Policing Authority doesn’t have a lot to say for itself. It is certainly critical of the Garda top brass but it never approaches, let alone goes for the jugular. It employs carefully guarded euphemisms to speak of an “inadequate pace of response” to an internal report earlier this year by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, which revealed a discrepancy of almost 1.5m breath tests over an eight-year period.

According to the authority’s report, the problems were compounded by inadequate supervision from management, a “cumbersome and ineffective approach” within the organisation to training and continuing professional development, and “poor or inadequate IT systems or technology”.

Hardly smoking gun evidence, even if we acknowledge the fact that there were genuine technological problems with the Garda Pulse system that exacerbated matters.

It goes on to say there was a culture in the force that displayed “a casual approach to data” and a lack of appreciation of the value of that data; a culture which “enabled unethical behaviour by members who falsified checkpoint data”.

We have heard the C word used before in relation to the banks and their culture of contempt for customers and the taxpayers who bailed them out. We have been sickened by the culture of entitlement of overpaid Irish business leaders who go bankrupt one minute and make millions the next.

We have felt humiliated and shamed by the culture of personal enrichment pursued by some, albeit few, politicians.

The word culture should speak to the highest of human intellectual achievement but it is a much misused word.

There are two other C words that are really at the heart of all this. The O’Sullivan report found a discrepancy of over 1.4m between the number of tests counted on the Garda Pulse system and the number actually registered by the force’s breathalyser devices. That speaks of corruption on a grand scale.

Between 2011 and 2016, just over 933,000 false breath tests were recorded on Garda Pulse systems and it was subsequently revealed that a further 500,000 false breath tests were recorded but not carried out. Again, corruption is the operative word.

This particular C word leads to another, most important one. It is called crime. The authority’s response to the report is revealing when it states: “While lack of adequate training is cited in the report, and is certainly a factor in the context of complex legislation, the Authority feels strongly that training is not necessary for people to be honest.”

An Garda Síochána are supposed to be the force preventing this particular C word, not engaging in it.

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