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Tested garda set for ?138k payout

JIM CUSACK and MAEVE SHEEHAN THE Garda traffic superintendent who suddenly retired after his arrest on suspicion of drink driving will get a 'golden handshake' of over ?138,000 and a pension of more than ?46,000 for the rest of his life.

The resignation of one of his senior officers comes at the end of an embarrassing week for Garda Commissioners Noel Conroy. Last week it was also revealed that he apologised to Donegal publican Frank Shortt, who spent more than two years in jail after he was framed by senior officers in the force.

Commissioner Conroy said he wanted to "unreservedly express my sincere sorrow and regret to you and your family for the irresponsible actions of some members of An Garda Siochana in failing to adhere to the professional investigative standards and procedures of the organisation that led to your wrongful conviction".

The chairman of the Road Safety Authority, Gay Byrne, said that the arrest of a senior police officer in charge of traffic was "extremely embarrassing" for the force.

Yesterday it was revealed that Superintendent James Fitzgerald was entitled to his full retirement package, having served 30 years in the force and having completed over three years as superintendent. The lump sum is based on a year-and-a-half's salary and his pension is half his current pay scale of ?92,000.

Jim Fitzgerald, 54, was refusing to speak to the media after he was detained on suspicion of drink driving an unmarked official Garda car outside Loughrey, Co Galway on Thursday evening. Only three weeks earlier he had been appointed as one of the five regional superintendents with full-time responsibility for traffic management.

He was placed in charge of traffic duties - including combating drink driving - in the Garda western region, based in Galway city.

He reportedly refused to complete a breath test at Loughrea Garda station after a member of the public reported his driving, and he was stopped by an official Garda car and questioned by a young Garda member. A file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions - but because he has more than 30 years' service, the Commissioner has no option but to accept his resignation in the meantime.

It is an ignominious end to the career of a senior Garda who is described by some of his colleagues as a highly capable officer.

Fitzgerald was just three weeks into his new post as head of the traffic divisionin the west, a position he was appointed to despite anonymous allegations about his drinking having been madeto Garda management two years ago.

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Fitzgerald, originally from Grange in Tipperary, made his name in the force working on drug-related investigations in the Nineties. He worked as an inspector in Kerry before being transferred to Nenagh in the late Nineties, where he remained until unsubstantiated allegations about his drinking habits were reported to Garda headquarters.

The anonymous letter, sent to Garda authorities in 2005, alleged that he went around Nenagh, Co Tipperary scrounging drink that he didn't pay for. It alleged that he was regularly drunk in pubs, took money off the counter belonging to others and soiled himself in pubs.

The first Fitzgerald knew about it was when two senior officers, Nacie Rice and Noel Smith, showed it to him in March 2005.

Recalling its contents in a subsequent High Court case, Superintendent Fitzgerald said it alleged that he owed money to about a dozen people in Nenagh. Superintendent Fitzgerald said all of the allegations were false. According to court reports, Nacie Rice told the superintendent that he believed the allegations were correct, while Noel Smith said that his position in Nenagh was now untenable. Superintendent Fitzgerald refused to resign his position. He took sick leave because of the stress and was told that when he returned to work he would be transferred to Dublin.

But the injunction was later lifted and Superintendent Fitzgerald was transferred to Garda HQ in Dublin. He applied for a transfer to Galway, where last month he was appointed to a new posts of regional traffic superintendent.


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