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questions unanswered

'We have confidence in the Commissioner': Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil divided over garda scandal

Sinn Féin has called a no-confidence motion in Nóirín O’Sullivan to be voted on next week in the Dáil.

Updated 2.45pm

FINE GAEL AND Fianna Fáil are at odds over the Garda Commissioner as the fallout from the breath test scandal rumbles on.

While Fianna Fáil has withdrawn its support for Nóirín O’Sullivan, the Cabinet is still openly declaring that it has confidence in her ability, although there remains serious questions to be answered over how nearly one million breath tests were recorded by the garda Pulse system that didn’t actually happen.

Speaking at a press briefing this afternoon, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said that questions need to be answered.

“There is a very broad and very deep concern in Cabinet regarding consequences from this and we acknowledge the consequences of these new developments for the faith people will have in the men and women we depend on to implement law in this State.

“We have confidence in the Garda Commissioner but we are strongly of the view that there needs to be a proportionate response back to the very deep and concerning developments.”

Meanwhile, Jim Callaghan of Fianna Fáil has a very different view of the ongoing controversy.

We don’t have confidence in the Garda Commissioner. We don’t believe she has answered the questions that should be answered.

The Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson said the public deserve the truth about how one million breath tests that never happened were recorded on the Garda Pulse system.

The party’s frontbench met today to discuss the ongoing crisis, issuing a statement to say it is “not in a position to express confidence in the Garda Commissioner”.

Speaking to reporters at Leinster House, he said no answer has been given as to how 907,000 breath test were falsely recorded.

He said his party’s stance that Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan should “consider her position” still stands. However, he said Fianna Fáil will revisit its position on the Garda Commissioner’s role after her expected appearance at an Oireachtas committee on Thursday.

Cabinet was briefed today on the latest controversies surrounding An Garda Síochana by Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. It was the first time the latest garda controversies have been discussed formally by ministers. Fitzgerald is expected to provide details of her latest meeting with O’Sullivan later today.

While the Garda Commissioner appears to have Fine Gael support, it is unknown what stance the Independent Alliance will take on the issue.

Yesterday, O’Sullivan held a press conference to detail what the gardaí were going to do about the almost one million breath tests that were recorded but not carried out, as well as the incorrect fixed charge notices which led to almost 150,000 summonses to court wrongly issued to drivers.

For 38 minutes, the commissioner briefed journalists as a demonstration of the “openness and transparency” that the gardaí were showing on the issue. The question of “how did this happen?“, however, remained unanswered.

Over the weekend, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Fitzgerald and Minister Leo Varadkar expressed their confidence in O’Sullivan to continue in her role.

With pressure mounting on the commissioner, with Fianna Fáil withdrawing their support for the commissioner and Sinn Féin calling for a Dáil vote of no-confidence in her, there is also growing pressure on the government.

Tánaiste has questions to answer

O’Callaghan said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald must tell the Dáil about when she was first told about the false recording of breath tests.

“We we are told over weekend the Tánaiste has been aware of wrongful convictions since last year – what has she been doing to remedy this miscarriage of justice? There are 14,700 wrongful convictions out there and no body in the State seems to have taken any steps to resolve it,” he said.

“I also think it is important we don’t let the government off the hook on this issue, the person who is politically responsible and accountable for these issues is the minister for justice.”

It has also emerged that this controversy might not be the last garda scandal, with indications there are other matters “coming down the tracks” in terms of other revelations.

Fianna Fáil said there could be implications for the Tánaiste irrespective of whether the garda commissioner resigns or stays.

“There is an obligation on the government to ensure we are not exposed to any surprises that was part of the agreement … if it is the case the government were aware of these very important issues and we weren’t notified about them in advance, we want explanations to that,” said O’Callaghan.

Fianna Fáil’s frontbench are also set to meet to discuss the matter today, while Commissioner O’Sullivan is believed to have been invited to address the Oireachtas justice committee later this week.

What then?

“What if the answers aren’t satisfactory and where does that take us? Obviously we’ll review our options at that pointy but we are not at that point. Thus far the answers have not been satisfactory,” said Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath.

Additional reporting Christina Finn and Garreth MacNamee

Read: An open and transparent garda briefing full of unanswered questions

Read: Nóirín O’Sullivan announces major restructuring of some garda sections – but she’s not going anywhere

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