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'It'll cost an absolute fortune': Over 100 solicitors in contact with gardaí over fixed charge notice error

Senior gardaí were questioned by the Justice Committee today about various scandals in the organisation.

Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

MORE THAN 100 solicitors have contacted An Garda Síochána in relation to issues with the fixed charge notice system which led to thousands of people wrongly receiving convictions and court imposed penalties.

It was revealed earlier this year that more than 146,000 summonses were wrongly issued to drivers. Since December 2014, no summons should have be issued for failure to have an NCT certificate unless the driver has first been issued with a fixed notice charge and then failed to pay the charge.

It emerged that in some cases, summonses were even issued after the person had paid the fine. In 14,700 cases, a penalty was imposed by the courts.

Appearing before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality this morning, Assistant Commissioner  Michael Finn said 119 solicitors so far have been in contact with concerns in relation to consequences their clients may have had due to this error.

However, he stressed that no person “went to prison directly as a result of one single fixed charge notice”.

Anybody who went to court and was imprisoned was in for a multitude of issues and FCN might have been one of the offences.

“It’s possible that people who opted not to pay the fine did end up in prison and there may well be civil actions in relation to that,” Finn told the committee.

Independent TD Clare Daly said this is going to cost the State “an absolute fortune” in compensation and engaging with the litigation will also take up much of the organisation’s time. She described it as an “unmitigated disaster”.

A recently published report on the issue by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan found that it was an “unintended consequence of the continuous upgrading of the fixed charge processing system on a piecemeal basis”.

It found the current system is complicated and confusing compared to other jurisdictions. It also concluded that operational members know “very little” about how the system works and have admitted they are in need of training.

‘Turning a blind eye’

Committee members also questioned garda managers about the breath test scandal. Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said he found it hard to believe rank-and-file gardaí were engaging in figure inflation for so many years without management noticing.

“I find it hard to believe there wasn’t some culture that turned a blind eye to it,” he said.

Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan said there were serious resource issue at the time, notably in supervisory roles, and agreed that there was “poor management” at play.

Senior gardaí stressed that there were no promotional benefits connected to breath test data, but a number of committee members raised claims by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) that pressure from management led to this scandal.

Fianna Fáil’s Jack Chambers referenced a number of policing plans from various divisions which cited the number of people breath tested as a performance indicator.

Acting Commissioner Dónal Ó Cualáin said he had asked O’Sullivan to seek evidence from the GRA regarding pressure on members to make up figures. He also said no discipline cases have been initiated at this point, but An Garda Síochána is still awaiting the outcome of an independent report on the issue from the Policing Authority.

‘No one has come to me’

There were also questions about the decision to re-open Stepside garda station. Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, who is currently working on a report about the six stations that will be reopened, said this will be completed in two weeks’ time.

He was asked repeatedly about political pressure that may have been placed on him to choose Stepaside. O’Driscoll told committee members that there were a number of criteria set out by the Minister for Justice when the organisation was tasked with identifying these six stations.

These included a rural-urban element and a requirement that the stations chosen must still be in State ownership. There were just four of these left to consider in the Dublin Metropolitan Region, and Stepaside was one.

“I can categorically say no person has come to me saying that a specific station be opened,” he said.

He explained that crime statistics are not always the best indicator, telling the committee: ”One would open a station one day and close it a month later and open another a week later.”

Greater emphasis will be placed on population in his report, he said. Once finalised, this report will be sent back to the government for consideration.

Read: Report recommending reopening of Stepaside Garda Station published ahead of time>

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