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Let’s dispense with the fig-leaf of discretion

* Over the past week, we have been treated to various dissertations on the use of discretion by gardai on the penalty points issue. As the original chief superintendent responsible for the Garda National Traffic Policy Bureau, I feel much of the commentary has been misleading and inaccurate.

* Over the past week, we have been treated to various dissertations on the use of discretion by gardai on the penalty points issue. As the original chief superintendent responsible for the Garda National Traffic Policy Bureau, I feel much of the commentary has been misleading and inaccurate.

To digress for a moment, the road safety actions of An Garda Siochana have been an overwhelming success evidenced by a progressive decrease in road deaths and injuries over the past decade.

This success is predicated on a systems approach to enforcement which is characterised by robust enforcement of speeding, drink driving and seat-belt wearing. The speeding detection system is largely an automatic process with detections being electronically made by GATSO or the civilian contractor.

This approach is the Australian model that I researched and recommended in 1997. It is based on a simple premise, which is that we will alter our driving behaviour only when the sanctions are immediate, relevant and fair.

It is supported by a strong IT system with seamless connection to the courts and the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

I carried out an examination of this system for the Garda Ombudsman in 2008 and many of the current issues were highlighted in that report but remained shelved. Specifically, issues of discretion were examined.

The idea that 13,000 gardai can somehow operate individual discretion is not tenable. An Garda Siochana has formulated a prescriptive policy. It is contained in the Fixed Charge Processing System (FCPS) manual. It should be updated and stress-tested to meet current fairness requirements.

There is a long history of the notion of the exercise of discretion by individual garda officers, but increasingly this facility is incorporated into policy directives and defined prosecution strategies.

Ultimately, garda officers must know that policing is something they do for people, not to people – it is a noble service.

The current political debate is disturbing and there is danger that public confidence will be shaken in the garda enforcement policy. This should not be permitted to happen as much has been achieved in preserving life.

In conclusion, though, let's dispense with the current fig-leaf of "discretion" in the context of the penalty points debate.

John O'Brien

Balbriggan, Co Dublin


* I was disturbed to read Transport Minister Leo Varadkar's words over the weekend to the effect that the constitutional protection for TDs and senators travelling to and from Leinster House is "outdated and redundant".

It is my view that too many in the current generation of governing politicians have no appreciation for history, or the wider reasons why such allegedly "outdated" practices are in place.

The "privilege" (although it shouldn't really be described as such, as it is more of a safety mechanism for democracy) which Mr Varadkar seeks to attack is in place so that, for example, no Taoiseach or Justice Minister could order the gardai to prevent a member of the Oireachtas (an opposition member, for example) from attending a vote in the Oireachtas.

If it were possible for the Government to act in such a way, we would be on a short road to an autocratic state.

This is why the travelling privilege is in place, so that no TD or senator can be prevented from casting their vote in the Oireachtas by an arm of the State.

John B Reid

Monkstown, Co Dublin


* As one involved in campaigning on right-to-life issues for more than 30 years, I am appalled at the stance of many parties and individuals in Leinster House on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Some even go so far as to call it a pro-life bill.

If they understand the significance of the bill and are honest in expressing their opinions, they would certainly not say that. There is a good reason why all governments since 1992 decided not to legislate for suicidality in the flawed X Case judgment, because if enacted into law it can, in time, lead to wide-ranging abortion.

This bill allows a perfectly healthy baby, in the womb of a physically healthy mother, to be aborted in circumstances where there is no reliable scientific or moral justification for so doing. Pro-abortion elements in Leinster House are delighted, seeing such a law as capable of further development along the lines they wish.

The people in 1983 voted overwhelmingly for an equal right to life of mother and unborn baby. The politicians are subverting this and even hope to get it passed without a vote! Is there any sense of democratic accountability left?

Des Hanafin

Honorary president, Pro-life Campaign

Dublin Road, Thurles, Co Tipperary


* There is some truth in the narrative that you cannot have separation of church and state without separating your personal religious opinion from your duties as an Irish citizen.

We continually reprimand the Muslim world for confusing politics with religion, bringing often corrupted versions of Sharia law to bear on residents of their countries.

You have a right to be a conscientious objector, to not participate in something you do not believe in. You do not have the right to impose your belief system on another human being.

The debate on abortion and the future difficult debates on end-of-life care should be about what we as a society feel is best for our citizens, rather than some personal fear of hell.

There is a place for both the Catholic religion and a modern state in Ireland. It is a line many of our citizens walk easily each day.

Pauline Bleach

Wolli Creek, NSW, Australia


* After reading the article about the current cold snap (May 25), I think many people could be forgiven for being a bit confused about the nature of global warming.

In particular, Prof John Sweeney is quoted in an article in the Irish Independent from November 2, 2010 claiming that we can all look forward to a 2C rise in temperatures and a boost in cereal yields due to all the extra carbon dioxide floating about. And yet here we are scarcely three years later, looking at an average 2C drop in temperatures, with farmers struggling to grow anything.

I think we all would have more respect for climate scientists if they would just come out and admit that blaming everything on a harmless trace gas like CO2 was actually a huge mistake.

Just give us our carbon taxes back and we'll say no more about it.

Dr Alan Rogers

Castleknock, Dublin 15


* I paid the residential property tax online this morning and was amazed to see the way Revenue frames its bill: it calls the tax "the amount you would like to pay".

I want to assure the Government that the amount of property tax I would like to pay is €0 and I will be making my feelings clear on the matter come the next election.

Jack Downey

Old Cratloe Road, Limerick

Irish Independent