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Sunday 23 September 2018

Breath test scandal: Motorists may have been sent to prison after not paying wrongful fines, probe hears

Assistant Garda Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan. Picture: Mark Condren
Assistant Garda Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan. Picture: Mark Condren
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

MOTORISTS who didn’t pay wrongly-issued fixed-charge notices may have been sent to prison, Gardaí chiefs have said.

Around 14,700 drivers were wrongly convicted of traffic offences due to issues surrounding the Fixed Charge Processing System (FCPS) and 3,800 appeals are set to come before the courts in the next few months.

Acting Commissioner Donall O Cualain appeared at the Oireachtas justice committee today where he was also grilled by members on the separate recording of more than 1.4m bogus breath tests.

He took the opportunity to reiterate the force’s apology for the “major failings” in how Gardaí dealt with both issues.

Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn revealed that repaying fines in the cases of wrongful convictions has cost almost €1m to date and that Gardaí have contacted around 8,500 affected motorists so far. Mr Finn also said that 119 solicitors have contacted him about more serious consequences faced by their clients after they were wrongly hit with a fixed-charge notice (FCN).

He said: “I can say that no person went to prison directly as a result of being  one single... FCN-type offence,”

OFFENCES

“Anybody who was in court and subsequently ended up in prison was there for a multitude of other issues of which an FCN might have been one of the offences.”

However, he also said: “It is possible that persons who opted not to pay the fine did end up inside in prison and we are working with the court services and the individual solicitors to identify those cases,” he said.

Mr Finn said that the State may face civil actions in relation to those cases and that the Gardaí will approach any court cases “openly, honestly and fairly”.

Garda management also confirmed to TDs and Senators that no member has faced disciplinary action in relation to the bogus breath tests recorded over seven years.

Mr O Cualain said any member of any rank found to have acted wrongfully on the issue would be held accountable.

Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said that Garda Representative Association (GRA) - the organisation for rank and file members - has accused management of being to blame for the inflated figures.

Mr O Cualainn said: “There is no evidence to suggest that anybody at management level were asking their members to falsify records.”

Mr Brophy said it’s not really credible that a “proper management structure” could believe the level of breath test activity was taking place saying “there couldn’t have been enough hours in the day.” He said the public were being asked to believe that either management was “so inept” it couldn’t work out what was happening or “the Gardaí were actively colluding together to do this”. He said: “Either scenario in my opinion is an awful outcome”.

Mr O Cualain said management would have been focussed on the number of checkpoints, not the number of breath tests happening at each of them. Cutbacks and vacancies in the senior ranks during the recession were blamed for supervision issues.

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