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Leah Farrell/
Breath tests

Confusion over last-minute change in leadership of new garda probe

The lack of clarity about who was involved in the internal investigation was highlighted by TD Mick Wallace when he questioned the Commissioner this week.

THE SENSE OF frustration felt by the group of politicians in Committee Room 1 in the Houses of the Oireachtas was tangible on Thursday morning.

It was their chance to question senior gardaí, including Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, about revelations that some one million breath tests that never happened were somehow recorded on the force’s internal system. Though garda management has made itself available for questioning a number of times since the news broke nine days ago – and issued several statements – it is no clearer how this happened.

On Thursday, there was added confusion over an apparent last-minute change in leadership of the internal investigation that is supposed to find out exactly that.

The appointment of Superintendent Pat Murray

On 23 March, journalists were invited to the Dublin Metropolitan Headquarters in Harcourt Square so they could be briefed on the breath test scandal and the discovery that hundreds of thousands of summonses had been wrongly issued to drivers.

Among the barrage of questions thrown at Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn by the group of baffled reporters was a request for information about what exactly was being done now to find out how this happened and which individuals were responsible for it.

An Garda Síochána An Garda Síochána

“We have appointed somebody, a Superintendent, to carry out what I’d call a fact finding investigation to establish exactly what went wrong. That will be preliminary to… if we were going to initiate some sort of discipline investigation. We do what we call a fact finding investigation and somebody has been appointed to do that. That’s to look back at the overall bigger picture,” Finn replied.

During the questions and answers session, a reporter asked:

You’ve already appointed a Superintendent?

We have.

Can you tell us who it is?

Superintendent Pat Murray from Athlone.

What resources does he have? Is he on his own, does he have a team?

We will give him all the information and all the data we have that will assist him with that. It is going to take him some time to do that, it will take him time and he will need time doing it.

That was Thursday afternoon. Two days later, on Saturday afternoon, the Garda Commissioner’s first statement on the scandal was released.

In it, she said she had directed newly promoted Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan and a team to:

…undertake a further detailed analysis of the work undertaken to date; consider whether any further remedial actions need to be taken; and confirm whether the issues identified were the result of individual or system failings.

She said An Garda Síochána will provide an initial report to the Policing Authority on this work within one month.

‘Yes or no?’

Fast forward to Thursday morning this week in Committee Room 1. It was Mick Wallace’s turn to grill O’Sullivan, and he wanted to know who, in fact, was conducting the investigation.

“Did Superintendent Pat Murray have an involvement in the internal enquiry?” he asked.

The Commissioner looked to the chair Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin for direction, stating she did not think it “appropriate to speak about individual members”.

Wallace, on request, rephrased the query: “I just read a press report that Superintendent Pat Murray was actually involved in it, but I don’t know if it’s true or not. And I just wanted the Commissioner to confirm if yes or no…”

Following further queries, Wallace was told by the chair to “be careful” in the context of warnings given at the outset of all meetings in relation to privilege.

“The Commissioner is free to answer as she deems appropriate, and if the matter is inappropriate in her opinion I will accept that is the case and we will move on,” Ó Caoláin added.

In her response to Wallace’s line of questioning, the Commissioner said:

I thank the chairman. What I can tell the committee here today is that Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan is appointed to conduct the investigation and to establish the facts.

The back and forth continued.

“So the Commissioner is saying Pat Murray is not involved?” the Wexford TD repeated, at which the chair interjected again.

I think, with respect, the Commissioner does not believe that is appropriate in the context that the Deputy has raised and I am respecting that. Is that the Commissioner’s position?

“Yes,” O’Sullivan confirmed.

“The Assistant Commissioner is in charge of the investigation, there is nobody else in charge of the investigation.”

Wallace, again: “So he [Pat Murray] is not involved in it?”

The chair cut short O’Sullivan’s reply, directing Wallace to move on.

“I will move on. I realise it’s hard to get answers to questions.”

Another unanswered question: Why was there a sudden change in leadership of the new garda probe?

‘Inappropriate’ sought to clarify this point with An Garda Síochána, asking whether a mistake had been made at the first press conference about the scandal during which Pat Murray was named as the person appointed to conduct the investigation, or whether he had at that time been appointed but a last-minute change was made.

We also asked, if this was the case, why a change in leadership of the investigation had taken place 48 hours after his appointment was announced.

The Garda Press Office said: “Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan has been appointed to investigate all elements surrounding these issues. As this is an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate to discuss any matters pertaining to this investigation at this time.”

After a second query seeking a response about the change, a spokesperson said:

“Pat Murray was doing the initial fact-finding. That is now superseded by Michael O’Sullivan. He has taken it over.”

They said Murray had done a “brief dipping the toe” and that his work had now been passed up to the Assistant Commissioner to aid his investigation. They clarified that O’Sullivan had been appointed to lead the probe as he is a more senior officer.

Read: Questions, unanswered: Scandals are ‘at best, incompetence and, at worst, deception’>

Read: Frances Fitzgerald claims she only found out about scale of garda scandal after press conference>

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