Thursday 21 November 2019

Ministers run for cover in latest row over gardaí's 1.5m fake breath tests

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Collins
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan. Photo: Collins
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Government Ministers are scrambling to distance themselves from the row over almost 1.5 million fake breath tests recorded by gardaí amid sustained calls for heads to roll over the scandal.

Senior ministers were accused of a "hands-off" approach as they highlighted the role of the Policing Authority in overseeing the Garda, and pointed to an ongoing independent review of the issues raised in two internal Garda reports.

But there remains mounting pressure for the Government to act over the latest in a long procession of scandals to hit the force.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall accused the Government of "kicking the problem down the road".

"The Government needs to take action. It has to end this hands-off approach, hoping that somebody else will take charge," she said.

She argued that the problems in the Garda "go way beyond the Commissioner" and said the Government should remove Nóirín O'Sullivan and the whole Garda senior management team.

The renewed controversy over the Garda comes after the publication of the two reports, one on the bogus breath tests and the other on 14,700 wrongful traffic convictions due to issues with the fixed charge penalty notices system.

The Policing Authority has enlisted accountancy company Crowe Howarth to carry out a separate independent review of both matters, to be delivered at a later date.

Read More: 'If gardaí had really carried out tests, my little boy might be alive'

During an interview with RTÉ Radio, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was challenged on demands for the Government to act to make changes at the top of the Garda.

He replied: "That's why we have an independent Policing Authority which is the very kind of change that was recognised to be needed in Ireland that we have brought in."

He denied this response amounted to "passing the buck", and said the authority's oversight of appointments at the Garda ensured they "are not dealt with in a political manner".

Junior Minister John Halligan, meanwhile, said there was "no doubt" that public confidence in gardaí was "eroding".

However, he said that "right now" he had confidence in Ms O'Sullivan and added: "There's no reason why I shouldn't until we've seen all the reports."

He said the incidents in the latest revelations happened before Ms O'Sullivan became Commissioner and "to be fair I am a great believer in giving everybody a say, and not to name somebody as being guilty until we've gone through everything."

He also pointed to the work of the Commission on the Future of Policing saying: "Let's see the results, let's see what happens over the next couple of months and I think that this Government will do what's right for the people of Ireland."

Ms O'Sullivan faces the prospect of being grilled by the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) now that the breath test and fixed penalty notice reports are complete.

Members expressed frustration during her appearance in July when the reports had not been finished as expected.

Labour's Alan Kelly said: "The Commissioner will have to come before the PAC regarding these reports in the opening weeks of the new Dáil session."

He added: "The reports on breath tests and penalty points were not available when she was last in front of us, so this is an absolute priority now."

Committee chairman Seán Fleming of Fianna Fáil said he wanted to see a full Dáil debate.

Irish Independent

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