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Watchdog critical of 'soft' garda internal points inquiry

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John McGuinness, Chairman of the Dail Public Accounts Committee

John McGuinness, Chairman of the Dail Public Accounts Committee

John McGuinness, Chairman of the Dail Public Accounts Committee

The Dail's spending watchdog has criticised the practice of gardai conducting internal reports in the aftermath of the penalty points debacle.

A member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also claimed a report by an Assistant Garda Commissioner into the cancellation of points was "soft" on members of the force.

The comments were made as the committee debated the contents of its draft report on penalty points abuses, which is due to be published next week.

PAC chairman John McGuinness said the gardai should be subject to external reports when contentious matters arise. "The day of internal reports or secret reports is over," he said.

Independent TD Shane Ross, said gardai should "never again" be able to do internal reports and that serious issues should be the subject of outside scrutiny.

In particular he was critical of an internal report by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney which did not find any evidence of corruption or deception in the cancellation of points, although it recommended three senior officers be disciplined.

Mr O'Mahoney later admitted he had not interviewed two garda whistleblowers, Sergeant Maurice McCabe and retired officer John Wilson, when he compiled his report.

A subsequent Garda Inspectorate report was more damning, and found "consistent and widespread breaches of policy".

Mr Ross said the O'Mahoney report was "questionable because it was soft on the guards".

He said the committee should be critical of the principal of internal reports.

"The gardai should never again be allowed to have an internal report," said Mr Ross.

Mr McGuinness said Sgt McCabe was "simply not listened to" when he raised concerns about abuses of the system with senior officers.

The PAC chairman added: "Someone in the system has to shout stop to what is happening to whistleblowers".

The draft report found that former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan "lost control" of the penalty points controversy and placed the protection of the force ahead of ensuring that whistleblower complaints were investigated properly.

It concluded that systemic weaknesses in the penalty points system saw 20pc of fines not being collected at a loss to the State of €6m a year.

The report also calls for a "culture change" in the force.

Members of the committee have until Tuesday to suggest additions to the document and it is expected to be formally published two days later.

Mr Ross said the report should pose the question as to whether or not gardai should still have some discretion around the application of penalty points. "If so many of them are abusing it, should they have it?" he said.

However, Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said the committee needed to be careful not to stray from its remit of examining lost revenue to the State.

"We can't make judgments without figures so we couldn't possibly know how many gardai could be abusing discretion," he said.

Irish Independent