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Sunday 20 October 2019

50,000 get penalty points cases written off


Potential €1.5m cost as judges, journalists and gardai escape fines

MANY former and serving gardai are among those who had penalty points illegally written off, a dossier compiled by a whistleblower shows.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has been made aware of the cancellations, which could conservatively cost the State €1.5m in lost revenue.

The allegations that 50,000 penalty points cases were quashed by gardai over a three-year period, also reveal that two judges, at least two journalists, one in the print media and the other with RTE, an international rugby player, and an RTE television presenter were among those who benefited from the practice.

Some of the "numerous" cases of gardai who had their penalty points cancelled were off duty or were senior officers who had left the force.

Names of some of those involved may be outed in the Dail on Tuesday when independents including Clare Daly and Mick Wallace raise the issue. So far the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has appointed assistant commissioner John O'Mahoney to examine the allegations which have been made about the cancellation of road traffic offences. He said there was no question of what has been described as a culture of non-enforcement of penalties being tolerated by the gardai.

The commissioner emphasised that the allegations generally appear to be based solely on an examination of the garda PULSE computer records.

"In other words, allegations of impropriety are made without it being clear how the person making them would have complete knowledge as to what led to decisions being taken in particular cases or being in a position to assess properly whether the decisions made were appropriate.

"In those circumstances it is very unfair both to members of the Force, and to the people who were the subject of the notices to assert wrongdoing in the absence of a determination of the full facts."

However, yesterday Conor Faughnan of the AA said he had seen the evidence first-hand.

"This is a very serious issue and senior gardai must accept the seriousness of this, which undermines public confidence in road safety and the penalty points system.

"The priority is that it stops from now, that it does not happen any more, and that is a bigger priority then raking over the coals of individual cases."

Mr Faughnan went on: "I do not believe this is corruption, but institutionalised bad practice that has become custom and habit over the years."

He said he had no problem with gardai cancelling penalty points providing the system was properly monitored and it was not done on a whim. The priority was to clean it up and if that was done that should be the end of the matter.

Gardai superintendents have the power to cancel penalty points if it is shown they were issued in error, or if there are extenuating circumstances involved, such as a medical emergency. They can intervene if written to by a motorist who wishes to appeal the points levied against them.

However, another source who had examined the dossier was also convinced that the allegations are true and said even if 20,000 of the 50,000 cases were illegally cancelled, that would mean a loss of the State at €80 each of €1.6m.

It was also learned that the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General was alerted to the issue, along with the Departments of Transport and Justice after the garda sergeant whistleblower came forward, contacting his own superiors and the Road Safety Authority.

Noel Brett, CEO of the RSA, said his organisation received the dossier and brought it to the attention of the Gardai, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General within days.

Some Dail independents have called for a public inquiry, while another source who read the dossier said more than 10 per cent of the penalty points issued could have been cancelled by gardai.

Sunday Independent

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