Tuesday 21 November 2017

Fresh review of An Garda Siochana ‘to restore pride to Garda uniform’ - Enda Kenny

Dáil hears calls for Noirin O’Sullivan to be sacked

Fianna Fail said it could not express confidence in Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan
Fianna Fail said it could not express confidence in Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan

Kevin Doyle & Niall O'Connor

A ‘root and branch’ review of An Garda Siochana is to be carried in order “to restore pride to the uniform”, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Ministers have agreed to establish an independent study of the force in a bid to overhaul culture problems that led to one million phantom breath tests being recorded.

The Cabinet agreed to maintain its confidence in Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan – but wants an external probe of the breath test controversy and a separate scandal that saw 14,7000 wrongful convictions.

“It’s a matter of grave importance to our country that the Government, the Oireachtas and members of the public have faith and trust in members of An Garda Siochana to carry out their jobs fairly and impartially,” Mr Kenny told the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

He said it is “absolutely essential” that a process of reform is implemented.

The Government will meet next week to devise a format for the independent review of the force, but it is likely to based on the Patten Commission which led to the establishment of the PSNI.

Mr Kenny said he is “very unhappy” with the situation, adding: “We will find out the truth about the discrepancies here.”

Despite pressure from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party the Taoiseach refused to criticise the leadership of the Garda Commissioner.

“This is not about an individual. This is about the structure and all the men and women who serve in An Garda Siochana,” he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the public are “genuinely shocked” by the revelations which “undermine the criminal justice system”.

He demanded to know when Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald first learned of the discrepancies and what she did about it.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said malpractice in the force was “endemic”.

She argued the Government should “call time on the rotten management culture”.

“You know that the Commissioner has to go. You know that the fish rots from the head down,” Ms McDonald said.

She said that “only in Ireland” would politicians be standing up debating whether the Commissioner should remain in her job.

“This is not about Noirin O’Sullivan as a women. This is about Noirin O’Sullivan as the Commissioner,” the Sinn Féin deputy leader said.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin described the Taoiseach’s answers as “entirely inadequate”.

“Is it good enough that nobody takes accountability for what we know that 14,700 of our citizens were wrongly convicted?” he asked.

Earlier today, Fianna Fáil’s frontbench formally agreed that it has no confidence in Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

The party demanded further answers from Ms O’Sullivan as it warned that the breath test controversy could bring down the current administration.

At a meeting of  Fianna Fáil’s frontbench TDs in Leinster House, there was blanket agreement that Ms O’Sullivan does not have the party’s confidence.

But the party has now piled the pressure on Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in relation to her knowledge of the 937,000 false breath tests being recorded.

Fianna Fáil’s Justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan told reporters that the controversy could have implications for the Tánaiste.

“Regrettably, I don’t think we’ve been given the answers as of yet,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

And he indicated that the issue could place the future of the Government in jeopardy, saying that the confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael clearly states that there should be “no surprises”.

But Mr O’Callaghan said his party can not remove the Commissioner because this is a role solely for the Government. He said there were “strict statutory tests” that must be met for such a scenario to happen. He also raised questions of the response to the controversy by the Policing Authority.

“I haven’t heard from them,” he said.

“There is only so much that opposition parties can do and we feel we have been quite effective in holding the gardaí to account in the way the Government should have been doing so.”

Mr O’Callaghan, a Dublin Bay South TD, said Ms O’Sullivan would likely not be Commissioner if Fianna Fáil were in power.

Ms O’Sullivan is due to appear in front of the Oireachtas Justice Committee on Thursday where she will face further questions. Last night, she said she has no intention of stepping down.

Earlier, the Labour Party agreed its own Dáil motion of no confidence in the Commissioner.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin called for “fundamental change” in garda management.

Sinn Féin and the Solidarity Party, formerly the AAA/PBP, are also putting forward motions.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about the penalty points blunder

A staggering 14,700 were wrongly convicted of motoring offences after they weren't given the opportunity to pay a Fixed Charge Notice, it has emerged.

An Garda Síochana have released a lengthy statement explaining how 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of driving offences and what measures are being put in place to help those affected.

Here's all you need to know about the controversy:

1. What is a Fixed Charge Notice?

A Fixed Charge Notice (FCN) is issued to a person who a member of An Garda Siochana has reasonable grounds to believe breached Section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, it can be delivered in person or by post. Over 10.5 million FCN have been issued since 2006.

2. How did this all kick off?

In December 2014 failing to have an NCT became a FCN, from then on no summons could be issued unless the driver has been issued with a FCN and subsequently failed to pay it. In February 2016 it emerged Garda Information Services Centre became aware of an issue regarding summonses for NCTs and ordered members to stop issuing them for this specific offence.

Two months later, in April 2016, a person appeared before court after being summonsed for not having an NCT Certificate, it emerged that they had already paid a FCN. As a result Gardai launched a preliminary review to determine how this happened.

3. What did the initial probe discover?

The initial probe found 759 cases where a person had paid a FCN for not having a valid NCT Cert and then been summonsed to court.

4. So, what happened then?

The investigation was widened to include all fixed charges offences and 1,130 cases were found where summonses had been issued for offences where the person had already paid the FCN. The Assistant Commissioner,  Roads Policing and Major Event/Emergency Management decided to carry out an extended review to see if there were any issues regarding the operation of the FCPs, it was carried out in conjunction with Garda IT.

5. And...?

From an examination of 830,687 summonses, which were issued between January 2006 and May 2016, they found 146,865 were brought before the court incorrectly - in other words when the person was given a summons without being given a chance to pay an FCN - 14,700 of these cases resulted in a penalty being imposed.

6. What were the main offences relating to the summonses?

The main offences relating to the 146,865 summonses are set out below:

Non Display Of TAX Disc (Use) - 68,664

Non Display Of Insurance Disc - 42,462

Use Vehicle without NCT - 4,511

Learner Driver Failing to Display ‘L’ Plates on a vehicle - 1,000

Non Display Of Insurance Disc Owner - 6,782

Driving Without Reasonable Consideration - 5,932

Failing To Stop For Garda -  3,658

Driving Past A Red Traffic Light - 1,903

Holding a Mobile Phone While Driving - 1,217

Other offences: Speeding, Lighting, bus lanes, Parking offence - 10,729

7. What's happening now?

An Garda Siochana spoke to the DPP and the Court Services about how to address incidents where a penalty has been issued and these cases will be brought before the Courts and requested that the convictions are set aside. An Garda Siochana are also writing to all those affected to explain what happened and outline how they plan to rectify the situation. Any fines will be reimbursed and all records will be corrected.

8. Any reason how this could have occurred?

Gardaí explained there are multiple reasons why the situation occurred:

  • The measurement from the breath testing device wasn't being read properly by Gardai before April last year, there was also no correlation between roadside breath tests returned entered on PULSE and the paper based returns as part of the monthly device test.
  • Paper records for these monthly device tests were not retained by An Garda Siochana.
  • Scheduled MAT Checkpoints were created on PULSE in advance but the results of the checkpoint may not be recorded until days afterwards, because of this inadequate record keeping updating the MAT Checkpoints was based on estimated rather than factual returns.
  • Instructions issued in the  2011 Garda Professional Standards Unit to include MAT Checkpoints weren't fully implemented.
  • Based on data from last year less than half of MAT Checkpoints are performed due to different reasons - as a result each cancelled incident is now recorded on each PULSE incident

9. Anything else?

A dedicated support service for those affected has been set up for anyone who has any queries, to get in touch email FCN.Helpline@garda.ie

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