Tuesday 20 March 2018

Flanagan is 'furious' at Gardai over breath tests

Fianna Fail say 'highly unlikely' gardai will be disciplined over falsifying breathalyser tests

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan Picture: Mark Condren
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan Picture: Mark Condren

Philip Ryan and Larrisa Nolan

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is furious with the intervention by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) on the fake breathalyser test scandal.

Mr Flanagan has publicly said he was "surprised" by the GRA's decision to claim none of their members falsified roadside breath tests but rather were told to "elevate" figures by senior officers.

Privately Mr Flanagan is understood to have told ministerial colleagues he is "furious" with the garda representative body and plans to vent his anger with the association in the coming weeks.

"Charlie said in an interview he was surprised by the GRA remarks, but privately he was furious with their attempt to remove blame from their members," a Cabinet minister said.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent last weekend, Mr Flanagan said there should be "zero tolerance" shown to gardai of all ranks involved in faking breath tests.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was "disappointed" with GRA spokesman John O'Keeffe's comments, as it suggested the body did not accept the Garda report on the falsified breathalyser tests.

The Taoiseach also insisted those involved in faking the tests should be held to account for their actions, no matter what rank they hold in the force.

Fianna Fail is set to clash with the Government over its demands to discipline gardai involved in the scandal.

Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan told the Sunday Independent it is "highly unlikely" any gardai will be sanctioned over the tests, due to the significant number of officers involved.

"The inflation of breath tests was so prevalent throughout the force that it can and should be viewed as being a practice, rather than emanating from isolated incidents," Mr O'Callaghan said.

"If individual gardai are to be disciplined then it will require a full review of all 523,000 roadside checkpoints and the taped recordings of information communicated by gardai to the Garda information services centre after each of those checkpoints," he added. He said it would be "implausible" to review every single checkpoint recording, which would "take years and enormous resources".

"It is for that reason that it was important to have accountability and responsibility for these failings acknowledged and accepted by Garda senior management," he added.

Meanwhile, the GRA has made an official complaint to RTE, saying its interview about the breath test fiasco "makes a mockery" of the association. The GRA lodged the complaint to the national broadcaster yesterday, a day after an interview was aired involving RTE crime correspondent Paul Reynolds and GRA's John O'Keeffe.

The letter, signed off by GRA General Secretary Pat Ennis, states that it was designed to ridicule the association. The exchange was a follow-up to a statement by the association, in which it said it would not be scapegoated for the scandal surrounding almost 1.5 million fake breath tests, and instead pointed the finger at Garda management.

The extraordinary recording - in which Mr O'Keeffe repeatedly stated that rank-and-file gardai did not falsify figures and were told to elevate them by middle and senior management - was shown in full on the Six One News and subsequently across RTE platforms. It went viral on social media.

The letter of complaint is directed at Reynolds and the news editor of the Six One News and related platforms.

Separately, Mr O'Keeffe has threatened to sue RTE over the interview, saying there was an understanding his answers would be edited or deleted before broadcast.

An RTE spokesperson said: "I can confirm we have received correspondence from the GRA and are currently clarifying it with them.

"RTE stands by the interview and its subsequent broadcast on air and online".

"There are no plans to remove the interview."

Sunday Independent

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