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'This was weak practice' - Garda Commissioner says it's 'too early' to say what caused breath tests scandal

O’Sullivan is making her first appearance in front of the Policing Authority since the scandal concerning Garda breath tests first broke.

Source: PolicingAuthority/YouTube

GARDA COMMISSIONER NÓIRÍN O’Sullivan says there is “no single cause” that led to almost one million roadside breath tests being officially recorded despite never taking place.

O’Sullivan, together with her senior officers, has made her first appearance before the Policing Authority since the scandals surrounding Garda breath tests and court penalties first broke in late March, at Dublin Castle this morning.

The Commissioner avoided specific answers while being questioned by the authority’s members for the most part.

She said that the issues surrounding breath test recordings was “an issue that we identified ourselves”.

nos Nóirín O'Sullivan at this morning's hearing

“When an organisation is going through a radical overhaul, it’s inevitable that we will identify good practice and weak practice. This was weak practice. But we mustn’t forget that the overall objective is to save lives, and to improve road-user behaviour,” she said.

O’Sullivan said that she is appointing Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn as a dedicated traffic commissioner in order to shore up the processes surrounding such data recording.

Asked as to how the sheer scale of the false breath tests had been missed by Garda management, O’Sullivan said that it is “too early to arrive at any definitive conclusion as to what led to this”.

“We will get to the bottom to how those figures did not alert local management,” she said.

The indications are that there were a number of factors. Having said that, it is simply not good enough.

Authority member Maureen Lynott suggested that, citing the fact that there was a 495% level of over-reporting in the Dublin West Garda division, it’s a mystery as to how “that kind of distortion did not catch anybody’s attention”.

michael finn Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn

“It is not reassuring, this business with the breath tests,” she added. “Surely interrogating such data is a basic management function?”

“It’s important that we get to the root cause of the problem, and to emphasise that there is no single cause,” O’Sullivan replied.

We’ve raised it with the chief superintendents and sergeants and inspectors, and everyone is being asked to account for their figures and as to why they didn’t flag with them.

Deputy Commissioner John Twomey added that “a number of things have been done in the last number of years with regard to data collection and classification”. “We need to deal with all the facts in this,” he said.

Authority member Judith Gillespie then asked  Assistant Commissioner Finn whether, given the discrepancies seen with breath test statistics, he could be certain that the force’s statistics with regard to fatal road accidents are accurate.

“I’d have no question at all that our road traffic statistics are accurate,” Finn replied.

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