Politics

Thursday 21 August 2014

Lost penalty points cash 'could have bought 300 squad cars'

Published 31/01/2014 | 02:30

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Whistleblower Garda Sgt.Maurice McCabe arriving for the private session of the Dail Public Accounts Committee meeting at Leinster House yesterday.Pic Tom Burke 30/1/14
Whistleblower Garda Sgt.Maurice McCabe

THREE hundred additional patrol cars could have been bought using the revenue lost from cancelled penalty points, a garda whistleblower has told the Dail's spending watchdog.

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Sergeant Maurice McCabe, pictured, made the claim while giving evidence to TDs in a behind-closed-doors session of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee.

Following the three-and-a-half hour hearing, which had been strongly objected to by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, several committee members described Sgt McCabe as "a credible witness".

It was the first time in the history of the State that a serving garda supplied whistleblower evidence to an Oireachtas committee.

However, it remains unclear what will become of his testimony – as there are no plans at this stage for a transcript to be made public or forwarded to the Garda Ombudsman, which has launched a probe into the penalty points controversy at the behest of Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Wearing his sergeant's uniform, Mr McCabe entered the committee chamber shortly after 2pm.

He began giving his evidence around 2.30pm after committee members spent half an hour exploring what could and what could not be discussed.

Committee members said the discussion was closely controlled by chairman John McGuinness, who ensured it related purely to controls and procedures and did not stray into issues such as alleged criminality by members of the force.

Mr McGuinness intervened around a dozen times during the hearing to ensure questioning did not go outside the set parameters, and no individual cases were discussed.

The questioning revolved around the findings of a Comptroller & Auditor General Report from last year, which found hundreds of thousands of euro in revenue had been lost as a result of fixed penalty notices being cancelled.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy described Sgt McCabe as "a credible witness" and said that his evidence had been well received. He said Sgt McCabe had been responsible and knowledgeable in his answers.

However, he questioned whether the PAC had been the correct forum for his testimony.

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald described Sgt McCabe as "well intentioned".

"It was well worth having him in and hearing what he had to say. I am glad he got the opportunity. He gave a very comprehensive account of the failings of the system."

Independent TD Shane Ross said: "We were quite careful not to discuss specific cases. We dealt with the systems involved and there was no individuals discussed."

Mr Ross added: "He continually came back again and again to the issue of how much revenue was being lost through points cancellations. That is what shocked him most. He estimated that 300 patrol cars could have been bought with all the revenue that has been lost."

DIVISIONS

Sgt McCabe was not asked to respond to comments made by Mr Callinan at the committee last week, in which he described the sergeants actions and those of a second garda whistleblower as "disgusting".

Mr Callinan considered taking legal steps to halt yesterday's hearing, but backed down when it became clear it would be held in private rather than in public. The commissioner said he did not want the hearing to go ahead because it would set a precedent and have an adverse affect on the maintenance of discipline and good order in the force.

The hearing exposed divisions among committee members over what to do with Sgt McCabe's evidence.

Mr Ross said he believed a transcript should be published, however this position was not shared by several other members, particularly those in the government parties.

Earlier there had been sharp exchanges between Mr Ross and Mr Deasy on the issue.

Committee chairman John McGuinness said the sergeant's evidence gave "a unique insight into the way the fixed charge system worked at an operational level".

He said the session had been conducted within strict legal parameters that had been set down in legal advice given to the committee.

"No garda officer was named, third parties who had tickets cancelled were not named, no instance was cited where a member of the force, a member of the public, or any outside body was accused of acting wrongly," he said.

"The evidence of Sgt McCabe focused on his experience as a member of the Garda Siochana and the concerns he had around the penalty point system, which led him to give evidence.

"In that regard the evidence focused on the systems, practices and procedures of the penalty point system and patterns in the cancellation of points, as referenced in the C&AG report."

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Irish Independent

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