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Friday 29 August 2014

Senior gardai fined €2,500 for quashing points

Superintendents hit with heavy fines in wake of whistleblowers' penalty point revelations disciplinary action from whistleblowers

JIM CUSACK

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

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Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photo: Tom Burke
Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photo: Tom Burke

Senior gardai found to have wrongly quashed penalty points have been fined after internal disciplinary proceedings, the Sunday Independent has learned.

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It is understood two superintendents received fines of up to €2,500, while a number of inspectors have also been fined lesser amounts.

The disciplinary proceedings arose from the inquiry last year by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony into the revelations by the two garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson.

The inquiry found evidence of favouritism being meted out by gardai in quashing points and fines. Several thousand offences were quashed, but this is out of a total of between 200,000 and 400,000 "fixed penalty notices" issued annually, mainly by the Garda Traffic Branch.

Since the controversy, all discretionary powers to quash points have been removed from senior gardai. Since the start of the month all appeals now go to the penalty office in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Some senior gardai were dismayed at this move as they have had experiences of what they describe as "over-zealous" behaviour by some traffic officers.

Quashing tickets in what were seen as deserving cases was seen as a useful function in keeping good relations with the public. Traffic gardai frequently target road spots where there are unexpected reductions in speed limits such as slip roads off motorways.

One senior officer pointed out that in the past, the annual Garda Commissioner's report actually published the numbers of penalties that had been quashed along with the numbers of fixed fines. This practice was stopped about 20 years ago and the extent of ticket quashing was unknown until the whistleblowers went public with the information.

The removal of the power to quash tickets from senior gardai was among the recommendations contained in a review by the Garda Inspectorate earlier this year.

Drivers seeking the cancellation of points will now have to make an application to the Fixed Charge Processing office in Thurles who now have the sole authority to do so.

People seeking to have their fines or points cancelled will have to use a form available on the garda website or from the processing office.

During his investigations into the claims about the abuse of the fines and points system Assistant, Commissioner O'Mahony found repeated instances where relatives of gardai had fixed notices quashed without good reason. But sources say the majority of cases investigated found that the discretionary powers were exercised in cases where senior gardai deemed that they did so sympathetically in what they regarded as deserving cases.

The guidelines for the new appeal system say fines and points will only be cancelled in "exceptional circumstances".

These circumstances include people driving to hospital in emergency situations, or in cases where people are trying to alert emergency services about a gas leak or fallen power line.

People appealing their fixed penalties will have to prove that the ticket was incorrect in having the wrong speed limit given by the garda. Only those with medical certifications of exemption will be excused for not wearing their safety belts. Few other exemptions will be considered by the Cancelling Authority. The authority's guidelines state the body will be directed by the "prevailing need to have road traffic legislation enforced, ensuring errant motorists are held accountable for their actions".

The public will also still have to pay their fines within the 28 day notice period while the appeal is considered.

More than 200,000 people received fixed penalty notices last year, mainly for minor speeding offences.

Sunday Independent

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