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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Explainer: The key findings in the two reports into the garda breath test and penalty point controversies

Gardai checkpoint
Gardai checkpoint

Cormac McQuinn and Philip Ryan

Two reports have been compiled by Assistant Commissioner Michael 'Sullivan into the garda breath test and penalty points controversies. We look at the main findings from each as the new information adds to the continued pressure on garda management.

  • Almost 1.5 million bogus breath tests were recorded by gardaí between June 7, 2009 and April 10, 2017. That’s 500,000 more than was originally thought.
  • Discrepancies happened due to errors inputting data on the Garda Pulse system, suspected breath test inflation and in some cases a practice of estimating the number of tests at a checkpoint.
  • While some Garda members may face disciplinary action, the report “did not discover any behaviour that would merit criminal investigation”.
  • Garda management had difficulty maintaining policing services due to cuts to resources.
  • There was a significant reduction in manpower due to a recruitment embargo and retirements, particularly in Dublin and northern regions.
  • Garda members ‘don’t put much stock into statistics’ which led to casual recording. The need for extensive data was seen as a ‘management gimmick’.
  • Gardaí had issues with the Dräger breathalyser counter. For example, if the start Dräger reading was not recorded at the beginning of the checkpoint, the officer was forced to estimate the number of breath tests completed.
  • The report into wrongful convictions over fixed-charge penalty fines stated that gardaí say there are too many motoring offences and the majority are almost never used to prosecute motorists.
  • 442 offences have been used less than 100 times and a further 132 offences have not been used at all.
  • Directives on new offences are “often large in volume, extremely technical and difficult to read”.
  • There was no official training for gardaí on the penalty points system between 2004 and 2016.
  • The IT systems for inputting information on penalty points was difficult to operate.
  • There are too many stakeholders involved in the administration of penalty points.
  • There was no deliberate attempt by any gardaí to circumvent the system or gain benefit.

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