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Commissioner confirms no gardaí will be disciplined over breath test scandal

O Cualáin said reviewing all 505,730 calls made by gardaí to log breath test data would take a number of years.

Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE ACTING GARDA Commissioner has confirmed he will not be pursuing disciplinary action against anyone in the organisation in relation to the breath test scandal.

Dónall O Cualáin was speaking in a public session with the Policing Authority this afternoon. He told members that the organisation “unreservedly apologises for the unacceptable behavioural and governance failures” which led to the recording of 1.4 million phantom breath tests on the garda Pulse system.

“An Garda Síochána acknowledges the very significant public disquiet and the understandable desire for actions to ensure individual accountability. This desire must be balanced with the challenge of providing a professional and ethical policing and security service,” he told the authority.

“Long term success will entail making difficult and, at times, potentially unpopular decisions.”

The Commissioner noted that the recent report carried out for the Policing Authority by consultancy firm Crowe Horwath on the scandal found no evidence of criminality. There is, however, evidence of breaches of discipline, he said.

Policing AuthorityActing Commissioner Donall O Cualáin (centre) withSource: RollingNews.ie
A sloppy, lazy and unprofessional approach, made worse by a lack of appreciation of the value of data, was central to the organisation’s failure. This was compounded by poor supervision, management, governance, systems and training.While neither the Crowe Horwath report nor the O’Sullivan Report have provided prima facie evidence of breaches of discipline, the legal advice I have received informs me that there is no legal impediment to initiating discipline.

He said there was no legal impediment to pursuing disciplinary action, but that a number of factors had to be considered, including:

  • The range and extent of possible breaches
  • The scale of the investigation process
  • The passage of time and the fact that some of the parties involved have retired
  • Possible legal challenges
  • Poor data quality to support the investigation
  • Associated costs
  • Human resources implications.

To review all 502,730 calls made by gardaí to the Garda Information Service Centre (GISC) relating to alcohol testing checkpoints since 2009 would take a number of years.

“Then there is the time and effort that would have to be taken by senior officers to sit on the many disciplinary boards,” he explained.

As a consequence, I have decided that pursuing discipline across the entire organisation is not appropriate in this instance. I appreciate this will not meet the expectations of some people.

O Cualáin said he must balance the need to address the issues identified with the need to minimise disruption to services or huge spending of taxpayer’s money.

However, he said he will be issuing an organisation wide direction that data integrity and data privacy breaches “be considered as a serious breach of discipline up to and including dismissal”.

Referring to criticisms about the 14 divisional officers who failed to respond to engage with the internal investigation into the scandal, the Commissioner said this is “highly unacceptable”.

“While not meeting the threshold of a breach of discipline, it does display a lack of urgency in dealing with such matters raised,” he said.

I will be writing to each senior officer in the organisation to outline the unacceptable nature of what occurred and directing that there be no repetition. I will also be taking this opportunity to highlight the critical role that they will play in implementing the recommendations required for the organisation into the future.

The challenges faced by the organisation are bigger than breath test data, O Cualáin told members of the authority. He said a whole of organisation approach, with a focus on behaviours, values and system reform is required.

“To do this, An Garda Síochána has committed to undertake a wide range of projects in the coming months and over the next strategy period to ensure that this type of failure, a failure so detrimental to public confidence, cannot happen again.”

The Commissioner acknowledged that the confidence and support gardaí have enjoyed from the Irish people over generations has been damaged.

“It is now up to all of us in An Garda Síochána to win back that trust by providing a professional, honest and ethical service to the communities we serve.”

Read: Two investigations later, there’s no assurance garda scandals will not happen again>

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