Friday 18 August 2017

Watchdog raps gardaí over claims of breath tests stats 'audit'

Tensions revealed as Commissioner sought to absent herself from crunch public meeting

Row: Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Justin Farrelly
Row: Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Justin Farrelly
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Garda claims that the force carried out a national audit to uncover the extent of the breath test debacle have been rubbished by the Policing Authority.

A private meeting of the authority heard that while various internal examinations had taken place, these did not amount to an internal audit.

The Irish Independent has also learned a major flashpoint threatened to erupt between the watchdog and embattled Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan after she said she would miss a crunch public meeting with the authority to attend a European security meeting instead.

Amid simmering tensions, Ms O'Sullivan eventually reconsidered, but not before the authority resolved to make strenuous objections to her and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

Last March, gardaí described as an "audit" an examination which revealed around a million recorded breath tests may never have actually happened.

Read More: Two-month delay asking department to join Garda review

The term was used on a number of occasions by senior officers and in press statements.

But at a private meeting on April 6, the authority concluded the examination did not amount to an internal audit.

This was after receiving further information about the process used by gardaí.

Their assessment backs up concerns expressed by Niall Kelly, the head of the Garda's internal audit unit, who emailed the authority to say neither he nor his staff were involved in the review process. He told the authority that because they were not involved, the normal rigours of an audit process were not followed.

Separately, the Garda audit committee, an independent body appointed by the Justice Minister, also wrote to the authority in recent weeks, saying the breath test "audit" was "not an internal audit as commonly understood".

The authority is now seeking to have Garda breath test figures independently examined so they can be assured they have an accurate picture of the extent to which tests which never took place were being recorded.

A Garda spokesman said it would not comment on details of correspondence with the Policing Authority.

However, Garda sources insisted it was simply a situation where incorrect language had been used and that no deliberate attempt was made to present the report as a detailed examination.

"This was not an attempt to mislead the Policing Authority or the public," one senior source said.

The force has recently introduced new procedures which mean any examination of an issue cannot be described as an audit unless it has gone through the Garda internal audit section.

Mr Kelly is the third senior civilian member of the force to raise concerns about matters in the force in recent days.

It emerged at the weekend that the head of the Garda analysis section, Gurchand Singh, had distanced himself from a report on homicide statistics.

At a Policing Authority hearing last month, Assistant Commissioner Eugene Corcoran said a "united" approach was taken by gardaí and members of data analysis division. But Mr Singh told the authority that while his staff did the analysis, the report was not his work and had not been read by him before it was submitted.

Last week, the Garda human resources director, John Barrett, contradicted an account given by Ms O'Sullivan of a meeting where financial irregularities at the Garda College were discussed.

Meanwhile, minutes reveal Ms O'Sullivan sought to absent herself from a public meeting with the authority on April 27, where the breath-test controversy was due to be discussed.

Ms O'Sullivan told the authority she was not available as she had to travel to a security meeting overseas.

Members of the authority expressed disappointment at her decision, noting Ms O'Sullivan had been informed of the public meeting as far back as July 2016.

The authority resolved to hold the meeting anyway, saying it was "mindful of the ongoing damage to community confidence".

It was decided its chairperson Josephine Feehily should write to Ms O'Sullivan and Ms Fitzgerald to convey its views.

The authority also decided it would arrange an additional meeting with the commissioner in public at short notice in early May should she not reconsider.

Following further discussions, the commissioner asked for the public hearing to go ahead earlier in the day, so she could travel to the security meeting afterwards.

This was agreed to by the authority, which usually holds its public meetings in the afternoon.

Irish Independent

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