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Monday 1 May 2017

Noirín O'Sullivan asks garda managers: 'Why do you think fake breath tests happened?'

Noirín O'Sullivan and Antoinette Cunningham
Noirín O'Sullivan and Antoinette Cunningham
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan has claimed the breath test scandal emerged after "somebody, somewhere either didn't count the figures right or that somebody somewhere put the wrong figures into the machine."

Addressing mid-ranking Gardaí at the AGSI annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry this evening Ms O'Sullivan said she would welcome the input of inspectors and sergeants in solving the latest crisis.

Last month it was confirmed that almost a million phantom breath tests were recorded on the Garda Pulse system while over 14,500 wrongful road traffic convictions took place.

Now Commissioner O'Sullivan said she wants to hear suggestions from sergeants and inspectors over why this happened.

The Policing Authority and Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan are carrying out separate investigations into the crises.

However Ms O'Sullivan said: "There are very experienced supervisors and managers here from right around the country. In our closed session I very much look forward to hearing what exactly you think led to the discrepancies in the figures around breath tests and also what you believe led to the FCPNs [Fixed Charge Penalty Notices] that were issued in error to people, and as your President has said, who appeared before the courts.

"I am very anxious to hear that.," she said. "If we compare our data with the data on the road safety website there are somewhere in the region of a discepancy of one million breath tests. We know from the analysis so far that it is right around the country."

She continued: "It is either that somebody somewhere didn't count the figures right or that somebody somewhere put the wrong figures into the machines."

Earlier AGSI president Antoinette Cunningham challenged the Commissioner over her recent comments at the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

When describing the recent revelations about the over reporting of breath tests and the wrongful convictions of over 14,500 motorists Commissioner O'Sullivan said the recent controversies highlight “at best incompetence and at worse deception”.

Responding to this Ms Cunningham said the comments were “unfair to the majority of decent, honourable and hard-working Sergeants & Inspectors”.

“You did not show the due process that all members are entitled to, and your comments left a sense of every one being damaged in an unfair way, when some or many may have had no involvement in this crisis as all. 

“Generalisations are dangerous in the absence of evidence and fair procedures should be applied to Sergeants and Inspectors just as much as for senior Garda management.”

Following the closed session, she Ms O'Sullivan told reporters:

“We had a very interesting discussion. What’s evident is no one actually has the answers, as of yet, to how these breath tests occurred, but what is very, very clear is that there is an absolute determination and commitment to get to the answers, that’s the work that [Assistant Commissioner] Michael O’Sullivan is doing.”

In 47-minute address to the 39th conference Commissioner O'Sullivan admitted that An Garda Síochana is in a "time of crisis".

However she claimed that "this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-shape and reform" the association.

She said: "The word scandal and crisis frequently used to describe where we're at. No disputing that.

"We all do a very difficult job a very tiresome job and at times a very tedious job. We are now bearing that burden in an extraordinarily difficult time."

The Commissioner also criticised her members and demanded more.

"I am here to tell you frankly, you must do better."

She also confirmed that a "cultural audit" of the force will take place later this year.

Addressing the Commissioner, AGSI President  Ms Cunningham said their members are being forced to listen to themselves being “pilloried” on a daily basis.

She added that they watch politicians “playing, in some cases, political ping-pong across the chambers of Dáil Éireann”.

“Meanwhile, on the ground morale sinks even lower, there is a stink of negativity in the air and members go on with their daily duties with trying to re-build public trust.”

She said all legacy issues, if they exist, must be openly and transparently identified and dealt with, and the Organisation needs to move on to doing their regular job.

Ms Cunningham went on to criticise the Commissioner for alleged failures in training within the force. She claimed that many mid-ranking gardaí in some divisions haven't received development training for up to 10 years.

The AGSI President also accused Ms O'Sullivan of pushing a “fake news” agenda regarding resources within the force.

Ms Cunningham concluded by highlighting a series of changes that need to be introduced within the force. These include the introduction of a training programme for gardaí of all ranks. She calls for steps to be taken to reform the current “blame” and self preservation” cultures that exist in the garda.

The AGSI conference continues this evening.

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