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Monday 15 September 2014

Commissioner had penalty points erased while on duty

Gemma O'Doherty

Published 19/04/2013 | 05:00

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Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan

THE garda Commissioner has admitted he had penalty points wiped out after incurring them on official force duties.

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Commissioner Martin Callinan, pictured, told this newspaper that a fixed penalty notice was written off after he had been caught breaking the speed limit by a traffic camera in 2007.

He was a deputy commissioner in charge of Garda intelligence at the time and is thought to have been travelling to an important security meeting.

Under legislation, all members of the force are exempt from penalties for exceeding the speed limit if they are on duty, whether they are driving their personal or official vehicles.

The incident occurred in Finglas, Co Dublin, when Mr Callinan was travelling in his own Renault car to a high-level security meeting. He was clocked driving at 83kph in a 60kph zone.

He declined to say whether this matter was an emergency or why Mr Callinan believes he was justified in breaking the speed limit.

The Road Traffic Act allows gardai to break the speed limit "in the performance of their duties" as long as such use "does not endanger the safety of road users".

The incident has only come to light in recent days and is not one of the 189 complaints lodged by two garda whistleblowers, who examined information on the force's internal Pulse computer system about the quashing of penalty points.

The two whistleblowers made allegations of widespread corruption by officers in wiping out penalty points.

However, an internal garda inquiry set up by Commissioner Callinan has concluded there was no corruption involved but is understood to indicate that some officers were excessive in their use of their discretionary powers to quash points.

It has been reported that three officers, up to the rank of superintendent, now face disciplinary proceedings and that regulations governing the transparency of appeals are being tightened up.

The regulations state that there should be a paper trail outlining the circumstances of an appeal and explaining how a decision by an officer has been reached.

The inquiry was led by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony and his report is due to be brought to Cabinet in the coming days.

Independent TDs have already named several well-known figures alleged to have had traffic offences quashed. They include rugby star Ronan O'Gara, Judge Mary Devins and crime reporter Paul Williams, now a special correspondent with this newspaper.

Since the controversy began, Mr Callinan has rejected suggestions that a culture exists where officers write off penalty points without due cause.

Senior gardai have discretion in terminating fixed penalty notices in some circumstances, such as a medical emergency.

However, the whistleblowers allege that road-safety laws have been flouted in "almost every town and village of Ireland".

The Department of Transport said last night that the law provided for exemptions for some road traffic legislation for emergency services such as gardai, ambulance and fire services, under section 87(1) of the Road Traffic Act, 2010.

It was previously included in the Road Traffic Act, 2004.

The exemption applies to gardai while in performance of their duties.

The department said it did not matter whether or not it is an official garda vehicle.

Gardai are not exempt in relation to driving or being in charge of a vehicle while intoxicated, the provision of samples of breath, blood or urine, driving without reasonable consideration, careless driving and dangerous driving.

Cancellations

Last month, Justice Minister Alan Shatter told the Dail that penalty point cancellations could occur in "circumstances where, for example, exemptions apply in relation to emergency vehicles or the wearing of seatbelts, or where there are evidential difficulties, such as the registration number registered by a speed camera does not correspond to the vehicle in question, or where there are emergency medical circumstances."

He has downplayed the controversy and expressed concern that individual officers had accessed the Garda Pulse system to check on cases that had nothing to do with their work.

Irish Independent

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