He said she said

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

There have been tense exchanges in the chamber this evening.

JUSTICE MINISTER FRANCES Fitzgerald has told the Dáil that she only found out about the extent of the garda traffic scandal after senior officers held a press conference last week.

Addressing the Dáíl this evening, Fitzgerald said that the Government has decided to commence an independent investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the nearly one million breath tests recorded on the Pulse system which never happened and the thousands of wrongful convictions handed down to drivers.

She said that while she knew of wrongful convictions in June of last year, she was waiting for an internal garda audit to be completed. She said she had no idea about the extent of the scandal.

“Again. I became aware of the 14,700 convictions which took place when An Garda Síochána made them public last week.

“Clearly there is a need for an investigation to hold responsible those people, at all levels of the garda organisation, who allowed such large discrepancies in the breath testing figures to arise.

The Commissioner announced an internal investigation but following consideration at Cabinet today, the Government has decided that there should be an independent investigation.

Relating to the 14,700 wrongful convictions, Fitzgerald said that letters to the affected motorists will be sent from 3 April.

She said that “all fines will be reimbursed and points removed”.

Fianna Fáil Justice Spokesman Jim O’Callaghan asked Fitzgerald that, as Minister for Justice “you have been aware for nine months that people had wrongful convictions made against them and it is my submission you did nothing about it?”

Fitzgerald repeated that she was waiting for the internal garda audit to conclude.

25/5/2012. Launch of CRI Alerts Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan Eamonn Farrell Eamonn Farrell

A statement issued on behalf of the Government this evening stated that it is “absolutely essential that a process of reform is rigorously implemented in An Garda Síochána, and that it is seen to be implemented, including through close oversight by the Policing Authority”.

The Government believes the level of public concern is now so profound that it may now be time to conduct a thorough, comprehensive and independent root-and-branch review of An Garda Síochána. That is clearly a proposal that will require further detailed consideration by the Government.

The Policing Authority said it was disappointed “at not being advised in a timely manner” that an audit into the breath test issues was underway.

A spokesperson for the authority said that, despite questioning over several months, they had not yet been provided with the full internal reports or indeed “a clear sense of how these matters have been handled to date”.

They have also requested that information be provided by An Garda Síochána on a range of matters to facilitate the authority by the end of the week. This includes a copy of all existing reports, including audits or examinations on both matters.

While the gardaí are carrying out an internal review, the Government believes that an external investigation into the Mandatory Alcohol Testing and Fixed Charge Notice issues needs to be carried out.

Commissioner O’Sullivan will appear before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on Thursday.

So what is this external review going to look like?

While the exact detail of the independent review is yet to be announced, it is understood the Policing Authority will be involved and could possibly head-up the review. understands the review could be similar to the Patten commission, which led to the establishment of the PSNI in Northern Ireland.

The wide-ranging review in the North resulted in the renaming of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the PSNI and a new policing board being established.

GARDAI SPEEDING CARS CAMERAS ROAD SAFETY DANGEROUS DRIVING CHECKPOINTS A total of 14,700 drivers were wrongfully convicted of driving offences in the courts. Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

The external review will look at the most recent scandals, but will also look at the culture within An Garda Síochána and an analysis of garda management.

A government source said the review would not be a “fault-finding process” but will focus on what systemic and cultural changes need to be made.

Any legislation that is needed to establish a review is yet to be determined. No timeframe has been announced.

The review has been described as an “expanded” version of the “root-and-branch review” announced by the Independent Alliance in February.

The Independent Alliance members announced on 15 February that they had secured an independent review of the “wider and more fundamental issues of public concern” in the gardaí.

Commission of Inquiry

With reporting by Christina Finn 

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