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Gardaí reported fake checkpoints - and falsified 400k more breath checks than previously thought

Gardaí are having their fingers rapped over breath tests again – this time by the Policing Authority.

Image: Shutterstock/burstfire

Updated 7.30pm 

A REPORT COMMISSIONED by the Policing Authority into the Garda breath test scandal has found that gardaí reported checkpoints that didn’t happen, and that around 400,000 more breath tests were falsified than earlier reported.

The body says the initial internal report carried out into the matter gives the authority “no comfort” that the force has grasped the importance of what happened, or taken ownership of the problems highlighted.

The new report, carried out by consultancy firm Crowe Howarth and published this afternoon, criticised the gardaí for what it described as an “inadequate pace of response” to the issues and a “lack of organisational curiosity and urgency” to understand why they occurred.

Chairperson of the Authority, Josephine Feehily, said at a press conference today that she wants the incumbent Garda Commissioner, Dónall Ó Cualain, to “reflect” on the report’s findings.

Today, she said: “Unfortunately the authority cannot offer assurances to the community that these problems could not recur, although we hope that they will not.”

“We know there were targets in policing plans which, had they been monitored, should have raised this issue for rectification much sooner,” she said.

Shane MacQuillan of Crowe Howarth said that regarding the breath test scandal, there was “no single reason for that problem”.

He said that the report found reported entry of false checkpoint data onto the Pulse system by garda members who had been detailed to perform a certain number of checkpoints during their duty, but had been unable to do so.

The problems with regard to the checkpoints had been flagged as early as 2014.

MacQuillan said there were a number of incidences where there were checkpoints authorised in advance, but which didn’t happen. It is impossible to determine on how many occasions this occurred, he said.

He said there was a sense around the organisation that “precision wasn’t important”.

There was also some evidence of data entry errors in some districts.

The report also found an absence of an effective governance process in place in respect to Pulse entries and checkpoints.

There was a culture in the force that displayed “a casual approach to data”, according to the report. A lack of appreciation of the value of data, it said, “enabled unethical behaviour by members who falsified checkpoint data”

In relation to the breath tests, he said that the true scale of the falsified tests is even greater than believed.

“Our analysis also found that the scale of discrepancy is likely to be greater than the 1.458 million reported by the Garda Siochána, perhaps by an additional 400,000 or more,” he said. “And that is because the report prepared by Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan didn’t include figures relating to the use of the greater breathalyser devices in other aspects of operational roads policing.”

The report also says that garda management failed to respond to the issues raised in relation to recording of breath tests in a timely, appropriate and effective manner.

The problems were compounded, according to Crowe Howarth, by inadequate supervision from management, a “cumbersome and ineffective approach” within the organisation to training and continuing professional development and “poor or inadequate IT systems or technology”.

MacQuillan said in relation to the incorrect issuing of summonses instead of fixed charge notices, which led to people being prosecuted, there was a misunderstanding by many gardaí that offences which would normally attract a fixed charge notice could be bundled along with offences which would normally involve a summons, in order to produce a single summons covering a series of linked offences relating to a single incident.

He said that it was found there was a loophole in the Pulse system which permitted these offences to be incorrectly linked. There was also a lack of available suitable technology at the roadside to assist gardaí in the prosecution of road traffic offences.

The report details how 14,376 convictions came about on foot of these incorrectly-issued summonses.

He said they are concerned that if another piece of road traffic legislation were to change, very similar problems could arise in the future due to the issues discovered.

“On that basis we are unable to give assurance that this problem has been completely fixed,” he said.

Feehily said that the Garda Commissioner “must fully implement a meaningful performance management system for both garda members and civilian staff”, so there is a framework for supervision and for learning.

The authority focused on the issues of integrity and culture, saying that “training need not be necessary to be honest”.

Feehily said that the scandal has damaged public confidence in the gardaí in a “tangible way”.

Huge discrepancy

Earlier this year, an internal report authored by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan revealed a discrepancy of more than a million breath tests over an eight-year period.

The report into Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT), which was published at the start of September, found a discrepancy of over 1.4 million between the number of tests counted on the Garda PULSE system and the number actually registered by the force’s Dräger breathalyser devices.

This figure, which accounts for the period between 2009-2017, represents a 71% disparity between the number of tests recorded and those actually carried out.

It was reported earlier this year that between 2011 and 2016, just over 933,000 false breath tests were recorded on Garda PULSE systems. However, it was subsequently revealed that a further 500,000 false breath tests were recorded but not carried out.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said at the time he was “greatly disturbed” by the findings of the O’Sullivan report.

Today’s Policing Authority report said that the initial Garda response “in the form of the O’Sullivan report does not give comfort to the authority that the force has grasped the importance” of the problems highlighted in the breath test system.

No indications have been given, it says, that the force has taken ownership of them “or is focused on addressing them”.

It adds:

While lack of adequate training is cited in the report, and is certainly a factor in the context of complex legislation, the Authority feels strongly that training is not necessary for people to be honest.

The Policing Authority was set up in 2015 and acts as an independent body to oversee the Garda Síochána.

Action

The authority said it understands that an Garda Siochána is currently engaged in a process of assessing whether and what action should be taken against individual gardaí in relation to these matters.

The authority said it would advise the commissioner to focus his consideration on taking appropriate action against any member where there is prima facie evidence of either a criminal offence or a disciplinary breach having been committed.

9687 Policing Authority_90528141 Policing Authority Chairperson Josephine Feehily. Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

It also advised that he should give specific regard to what steps should be taken to the failure of so many divisional officers to respond to the commissioner adequately or at all, in March 2015 and March 2017, in response to requests.

However, overall, the authority said that poor performance on a pervasive scale “can seldom be appropriately addressed by disciplinary processes”.

The Policing Authority expects the Acting Garda Commissioner to respond in person to today’s report at the authority’s meeting in public on 23 November.

The authority said it will also be sending a copy of the report to the Road Safety Authority, and will ask its views on any implications for the Government’s Road Safety Strategy 2013 – 2020.

In an initial response today the Acting Commissioner said the force took the findings of the latest report “very seriously”.

“These were collective failures and we must now all work together from top down to bottom up to resolve them,” Dónall Ó Cualáin said.

He said the force’s “strong focus now is on changing our systems, practices, behaviours and culture”.

“This process has already started and will continue at pace until all matters are resolved.”

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said today’s report presented a “troubling picture of certain practices in An Garda Síochána” but also “sets out clear-cut recommendations to ensure these failures are not repeated”.

Flanagan added: “The report acknowledges some improvements have already been made. The next phase – the implementation of the recommendations of the Crowe Horwath report – will be critically important.”

- With reporting by Daragh Brophy 

Read: Gardaí urge anyone with evidence relating to false breath test figures to come forward>

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