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Saturday 20 September 2014

80,000 rogue motorists 'are dodging points'

Justice Department denial branded ‘hilarious’

Published 29/06/2014 | 02:30

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Former Chief Supt John O’Brien reported on penalty points for GSOC. Photo: Tony Gavin
Former Chief Supt John O’Brien reported on penalty points for GSOC. Photo: Tony Gavin

UP to 80,000 motorists a year are getting away without penalty points by ignoring summonses and refusing to pay fines, according to a former head of the Garda Traffic Bureau.

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The startling estimate was made by retired chief superintendent John O’Brien, who made a study of the system for the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

He claims that the report, which was given to the Department of Justice in 2009, and pinpointed failings later exposed by garda whistleblowers, was left on the shelf and ignored.

Mr O’Brien, a 38-year veteran of the force, headed up the traffic bureau for three years after its inception in 1997.

Based on current trends, he believes it is likely around 80,000 motorists who should receive points will be able to avoid them this year.

These are all people who, for whatever reason, do not pay motoring fines issued to them in the post and who should, in theory, all be summonsed to appear in court.

However, the former garda said that in reality between 40,000 and 50,000 of the 90,000 summonses issued each year for points offences go unserved.

He said it had been his experience that just 14pc of summons cases for driving offences actually end in a conviction.

“The court system is grossly inefficient in handling such cases,” said Mr O’Brien.

“In fact, the system is absolutely creaking at the seams. Judges have told me that there simply is not the capacity to cope with the volume of summonses.”

The former chief superintendent suggested that the situation was so bad, it may require suspending the processing of fixed-charge notices offences, with the exception of speeding, for up to six months, so the authorities can start again and sort out failings in the system.

Mr O’Brien was also deeply critical of the Department of Justice, which he claimed ignored a report he compiled on the system for GSOC that was given to government officials in May 2009.

That report identified many of the failings which would subsequently come to light through the intervention of garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson.

“All of the angst we had in the last 12 months with the Justice Minister going, the Garda Commissioner going, with a Confidential Recipient going, and all of the problems identified in the system, were totally flagged in the GSOC report.

“Unfortunately, that report was totally ignored and somebody really should explain why.

“All of the problems were signalled in that report, including the issues of discretion, policy and the inefficiency of the criminal law system to process offences.”

A spokesman for the Department of Justice denied that Mr O’Brien’s report for GSOC had been ignored by its officials.

He insisted that the report had been “fed into ongoing analysis and development of the operation of the fixed-charge penalty system and traffic enforcement generally.”

However, Mr O’Brien described this claim as “hilarious”.

“The system problems were highlighted in the report and, frankly, nobody did anything with it. Full stop. End of story,” he said.

The former garda, who now works as a security advisor, said a number of simple measures could be taken to radically improve the system.

The first of these would be informing motorists that they have been photographed committing the offence. This does not currently happen.

He believes motorists would be less likely to ignore fines if they were made aware that a photo of the offence exists.

He also advocates gardai specifically identifying repeat offenders and “pursuing them in a legal and appropriate way”.

Mr O’Brien believes these measures would greatly reduce the number of summonses which have to be issued.

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