Breath tests

An open and transparent garda briefing full of unanswered questions

The Commissioner told reporters yesterday she had heard the “disquiet” around the force’s latest scandal.

Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

FOR 38 MINUTES yesterday afternoon, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan fielded questions from a rabble of journalists gathered in a stiflingly hot briefing room at Garda Headquarters.

How on earth did almost a million breath tests that never happened end up on the internal garda system?
Were gardaí making them up?
Does this have anything to do with the massive cuts in resources over the last ten years?
Will she consider her own position?
How can she expect the public to have any confidence in An Garda Síochána as a police organisation anymore?

O’Sullivan began by referring to a media briefing last week given by Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn where he outlined massive errors that led to almost a million phantom breath tests being logged on the Pulse system and hundreds of thousands of drivers receiving summonses they should never have been sent.

“It’s a departure from what we would normally do, but it is part of the change we are undergoing,” she explained.

These briefings are part of the culture change in the force, she stressed – a demonstration of a new openness and transparency.

“We have heard very, very carefully, the disquiet around the issues and also the call for further and more detailed information,” she continued, adding that she recognised there were “very, very serious issues” and she is conscious of the impact this has had on public confidence in the organisation.

So, first question. It came from RTÉ’s Paul Reynolds, who bluntly kicked it all off with: “How did this happen? Do we have thousands of gardaí effectively making it up? Is there that level of fraud?”

“There is no doubt that this is a very, very serious issue that we have to get to the bottom of,” replied the Commissioner.

As I said earlier, Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, the newly appointed assistant commissioner, is tasked with exactly that, identifying exactly where this was happening, who was doing it and what precisely were they doing and if we identify, in any case, that there is deliberate – let it be distortion of facts, deliberate falsification of records or any of that – the appropriate action will be taken.

“You must have some idea what’s going on? … And people really want action now.”

“Well, we are taking action  and we have taken action – we’ve taken action from the moment this came to light. And what we have to do is satisfy ourselves as to what precisely happened that led to the creation of these records. Who is responsible for that and to make sure that if people have done something deliberately wrong or if they have made some error, that they are held accountable for that and that the systems and governance processes that are there are equally examined to make sure that they’re robust.”

On to resourcing: “Would the Commissioner commit to bulking the Traffic Corps back up?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

Starting this year, the intention is to increase the size of the Traffic Corps by 10% year-on-year.

O’Sullivan acknowledged there had been a significant depletion of the Traffic Corps in recent years and in supervisory management right around the country.

If this has led to members being careless or deliberately keeping inaccurate records – “This does not make it okay,” she was quick to add.

“A no confidence motion in you has been tabled by Sinn Féin – will you step down if the country’s lawmakers vote against you?”

I think from 2014 when I took up this position on an acting interim basis, I think I made very clear my commitment to making sure the cultural organisation and the administrative reform that was needed to bring this organisation into the 21st century happens and happens in a real way and we began a journey in 2014 to get that done – that’s continuing.

“But, if the Dáil votes no confidence in you next week – will you remain on as Commissioner?”

I have a journey of work that I have to do and I have to see that I see out that commitment and to make sure that the foundations of what is a modern professional police service that delivers the cultural reform, the structural reform, and the organisation reform that’s necessary to achieve that is put in place.

“Can we just get a straight answer – will you stay on if the Dáil votes no confidence?”

“I am absolutely committed to making sure that we continue to deliver on the transformation and the change and the reform agenda that we committed to government that we would do.”

“You’ve been through all the ranks of the organisation – have you ever come across anything like this before while you were in those positions?”

“Well, firstly, unfortunately, I never served in the traffic police bureau and I never served in traffic and in fact, you know, I never even used a Drager [breath testing device], as an example, but that doesn’t in any way diminish what we have found here,” she said.

The reality is, what we have to look at is, get to the bottom of what has happened here, who has done what and where was it done and as soon as we have that we will have more answers.

The Commissioner finished up with some of her own questions:

“How come this never came to light before? How come this was never challenged before?

“Those will be answered – they hope – by Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan’s investigation.

What next?

Garda management provided a detailed timeline of how this controversy was uncovered, outlined the measures they have put in place to stop it happening again in the future and revealed they hope to have a report back in three months from their internal investigation.

They also stressed that if someone is found to have done wrong, action will be taken.

After 38 minutes of openness and transparency, having been told they were given ample time to question management on how this scandal came about, the now-subdued mob of reporters started to filter out of the room, none-the-wiser.

The most important question – how did this happen? – for now, remains unanswered.

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

More: Here’s what we know so far about the garda breath test scandal>

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