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Alerted to breath test discrepancy in 2014, gardaí just stopped ordering mouthpieces

The issue was raised a second time in 2015 after the Medical Bureau of Road Safety did its own survey of the devices.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE HEAD OF the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (MBRS) has said his organisation alerted gardaí on two separate occasions – the first back in 2014 – to discrepancies in breath test numbers before action was taken.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Professor Denis Cusack, Director of the MBRS, said his staff first noticed a possible issue with garda numbers in the summer of 2014. The bureau is responsible for procuring, testing and, every six months, calibrating devices for An Garda Síochána. It also buys the disposable mouthpieces that drivers blow into during roadside tests.

“We buy them every year. We were buying between 400 and 600 thousand. It cost anywhere between €80,000 and €120,000,” Cusack said.

During that summer in 2014, staff noticed they had not received a request from the garda central stock in Santry for a new order of mouthpieces.

On the garda website, we noted that there were between 400,000 and 450,000 breath tests on the website carried out over the last year previously. We said “the numbers just don’t add up we need clarification” because if those numbers were being done, clearly we wouldn’t expect that there would be that number of mouthpieces left.

In July 2014, the MBRS wrote to gardaí with what he described as “an alert that something wasn’t adding up”.

Some months later we got a reply to say that they weren’t seeking any more. We didn’t order any more mouthpieces for 2015 or 2016.

The issue was raised in meetings in 2014 and 2015, he said, but he stressed the MBRS does not “in any way become involved in garda operational matters”.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was, at this time, Acting Commissioner, having been appointed  after the resignation of Martin Callinan in March 2014.

‘Surprised’

On foot of a newspaper article in August 2015 about potential discrepancies, Cusack’s staff carried out a survey of 200 of the 1,200 devices and found, based on an estimation of the average use for those devices, “it appeared there were not 400,000 plus tests being done on our devices, but rather closer to 200,000″.

“We were quite surprised obviously that there was such a difference,” he said. Again the bureau alerted gardaí to the issue.

“Nobody knew what they were dealing with at that stage except there was a discrepancy. That was the first time we had firm, solid information.”

An internal garda review of traffic equipment and Pulse related data was launched in 2015 in the southern region and a national audit followed that last year. It was not until earlier this month that An Garda Síochána asked the MBRS for their data so they could do a comparison.

The bureau was not informed of the scale of the discrepancy until last week.

“Clearly everybody is concerned,” Cusack said this morning.

He said his organisation is currently sourcing new devices for gardaí which include additional features like location and direct downloading of data.

Cusack said the focus now should be ensuring everything is done to improve road safety in this country, with 42 deaths on the roads already this year.

Analysis: An open and transparent garda briefing full of unanswered questions>

Read: Tánaiste to brief cabinet today on latest garda controversies with no-confidence vote looming>

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