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Wednesday 26 April 2017

Taxpayers set to foot payouts bill over Garda fiasco, says Fitzgerald

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

A large bill for compensating people who were wrongly brought to court is likely to be footed by taxpayers, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has admitted.

An independent probe is now to be ordered into why one million breath tests were either faked or never took place, indicating the Government no longer trusts An Garda Síochána to get to the bottom of the controversy.

Ms Fitzgerald faced two hours of intense questioning in the Dáil last night during which she was accused by Fianna Fáil of "doing nothing" despite knowing for nine months that citizens were brought to court in error. And as the crisis in justice deepened:

  • The Policing Authority gave the Garda Commissioner a deadline of Friday to provide it with all documentation relating to the Fixed Charge Notice and breath test scandals.
  • The Cabinet agreed a 'root-and-branch' review of the culture within An Garda Síochána.
  • External inquiries into the two controversies were announced by the Taoiseach.
  • And the Dáil heard repeated calls for Nóirín O'Sullivan to step down as Commissioner.

The intervention by the Policing Authority is another major blow to the position of Ms O'Sullivan, who retains the confidence of the Government - but no other political party.

In a hard-hitting statement, the body criticised Garda management for not providing a "clear sense" of how problems arose with breath test data and wrongful prosecutions "despite questioning over several months".

"The Authority is anxious that any actions arising from its consideration of these matters will take cognisance of the full breadth of the issues involved, not least the potential cultural, ethical and behavioural issues in order to reassure the public," it said, adding that Ms O'Sullivan has been warned to reply "in a timely manner".

The Government's response was heavily debated at an extended Cabinet meeting yesterday, resulting in a decision to establish a Patten-style commission to come up with a new plan for Garda reform.

Read more: Policing Authority demands all reports relating to breath test scandal be handed over 'by the end of the week'

Initially just 24 minutes of Dáil time was allocated for questions to Ms Fitzgerald but following uproar in the Chamber it was agreed she would make a formal statement and take questions for two hours.

During the robust debate, Ms Fitzgerald confirmed she first became aware that there were "some issues" relating to Fixed Charge Notices last June.

"The Garda was concerned that some people were summoned to court who should not have been," she said, adding: "No figure was mentioned, so I was not aware of the 14,700 cases."

Ms Fitzgerald said she only learned the full scale during the Garda press conference last Thursday.

However, Fianna Fáil's Jim O'Callaghan said: "The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has been aware for nine months that there were wrongful convictions that took place before the District Court. In my submission, she did nothing about it."

Under questioning, Ms Fitzgerald said compensation may have to be paid to those affected. "Each individual case will have to be assessed. Of course, there could have been the serious situation when the penalty points have reached the level where someone lost their licence."

Irish Independent

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