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Gardai stop fining drivers in protest over salary cuts

THE catching of motorists for minor traffic offences, which has been generating upwards of €40m a year, is ending as part of the garda go-slow in protest at pay cuts.

Gardai will no longer meet the targets set for generating massive numbers of 'fixed penalty notices', under which they have been issuing up to half-a-million fines each year.

From last Friday, they have stopped issuing fines for non-payment of motor tax and the go-slow will extend to the other big revenue-generating fines, such as talking on mobile phones while driving.

About 30,000 motorists a year have been receiving fines for talking on their phones and a further 22,500 were fined last year for failing to display tax discs.

Gardai are now only issuing cautions for these offences. They have said that, given the cuts to their salaries, they are no longer prepared to be "tax collectors" for government.

Garda management has responded by issuing warnings that "incitement" to withdraw services is a criminal offence under the 2005 Garda Siochana Act. Sources have said, however, that the mood in the force is such that these warnings will be ignored.

They said the drop in morale and growing anger were being exacerbated by the failure to make arrests in the investigation into the murder of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe in Dundalk in January.

Up to now, the practice has been to catch as many motorists as possible for minor offences as traffic gardai are set targets for fines.

The policy was never officially stated but sources in the Traffic Corps say they are set targets with monthly 'enforcement days' when they have to generate as many fines as possible.

This has resulted in large numbers of gardai ambushing motorists at places where they are most likely to be over speeding limits, such as on slip roads off motorways.

Some years ago gardai in Dublin used the supposedly anti-crime operation 'Anvil' to stop large numbers of motorists and check their insurance and tax. Last year, 224,937 fines were issued to speeding motorists.

Ireland is one of the few countries where police are given the duty of raising revenue by fining people for not paying car tax. Now that gardai have withdrawn from this practice, it will be left up to local authorities to use wardens to issue fines.

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However, most local government authorities in Ireland have got rid of official wardens and have passed the work of issuing fines for illegal parking to private companies and they can only issue fines for illegal parking.

Gardai have been increasingly uncomfortable with the issuing of fines as many of their own members are now barely able to afford to tax or maintain their cars.

The total number of fines issued last year for illegal parking, driving in bus lanes and not wearing seatbelts was 315,639. The fines for not having tax alone generates more than €2m a year.

It is not clear if all gardai will stop issuing fines but members of the Garda Representative Association say they will "exercise discretion" in regard to these and other motoring offences which, in total, have been generating €30m to €40m annually.

Meanwhile, last week the Government refused to disclose details of its intentions in regard to garda pay and numbers after Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins had sent a freedom-of-information request to the Department of Justice, seeking to discover if, as gardai believe, the intention is to reduce the size of the force from the present 13,400 to 12,000.

Mr Collins's request was refused on the grounds that the department could not disclose documents generated "for the purpose of any negotiations being carried on or being, or to be, carried on by or on behalf of the Government or a public body".

Mr Collins had a heated exchange with Justice Minister Alan Shatter in the Dail last Tuesday, when the Ceann Comhairle had to call for order in what he described as a "shouting match" over garda pay and numbers.

Mr Collins accused the minister of seeking to reduce garda numbers to 12,000 and Mr Shatter accused him of hypocrisy.

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