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"Should the gardaí get discretion?": Ross rounds on 'bent' guards abusing the points system

“We should ask the really radical question — should the gardaí get discretion? If so many of them are abusing it – why should they have it?”

Updated at 12.42pm

PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE member Shane Ross has called for the issue of garda discretion to be examined more closely, and questioned why officers should be allowed have discretion in relation to offences that merit penalty points.

The Dublin South TD made the remarks as the committee discussed its draft report on the penalty points affair this morning.

[Oireachtas.ie]

Ross said he took issue with a statement in the document “where we say we have absolutely no problem with the principle of discretion given to gardaí”.

“I think that’s glossing over the problem a bit.

I understand the reasons why its there — but the whole problem that we’re addressing here is a problem of discretion and its a problem of abuse of discretion.

Ross said revelations that thousands of points had been cancelled by gardaí after the penalties had been entered into the system indicated that corrupt decisions were also being made at roadside stops.

We should ask the really radical question — should the gardaí get discretion? If so many of them are abusing it – why should they have it?

Asked by Committee Chair John McGuinness whether he was referring to the wiping of points after they had been processed, or ‘side of the road’ decisions made by individual members of the force, Ross replied “both”.

PAC chair John McGuinness and clerk of the committee Ted McEnery. 

“I mean, the initial discretion that you’re talking about, which is a guy stopping someone at the side of the road – that’s open to abuse as well,” the Independent TD said.

“It’s quite obviously open to abuse.

“I take your point about the distinction — but because of the findings we have further down the line, we have to ask questions of what’s happening there as well.

The issue was a “fundamental one” Ross said later…

If you’ve got a bent garda, you know — the abuse of their rights means that they are indulging in utterly unacceptable and probably illegal activity.

“If they’re doing it in one place, the same gardaí are liable do be doing it at the initial stages.

“We’ve got to face these issues and not say ‘look, that’s outside our remit we don’t touch it, let’s bury it’… Let’s bring it up front.”

Eoghan Murphy, the Fine Gael TD, had earlier raised reservations as to whether the committee should extend its enquiries to examine roadside decisions.

Eoghan Murphy.

The PAC had to work on the basis of evidence, Murphy said, and examination of the latter end of process had “shown there was a loss of revenue to the state”.

We have to accept that gardaí should be able to use their own judgement and exercise common sense — because that’s important for the integrity of the force and people having confidence in them.

Sgt Maurice McCabe — the penalty points whistleblower — had said himself in testimony to the committee that discretion was important for gardaí “at the front end” of the system, Murphy said.

Reports

Elsewhere, McGuinness, of Fianna Fáil, took issue with the internal ‘O’Mahony’ investigation of the penalty points issue, which found no evidence of corruption.

He said the way that the matter was handled initially showed that Maurice McCabe hadn’t been listened to. He also called for an end to internal or “secret” reports.

“Somebody within the system has to cry stop to the cover up that has been happening in relation to what whistleblowers are exposing,” McGuinness said.

The PAC’s report was a chance to highlight, he said, “the need for independent reports from outside the system that we can rely on here in the Oireachtas… Because the system simply is not working”.

First posted at 11.50am.

Read: Gardaí STILL cancelling penalty points, says whistleblower

Read: Garda whistleblower to meet with Commissioner over harassment>

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Daragh Brophy

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