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 Header Item Garda Policing Plans (Continued)
 Header Item Penalty Point System

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] On that day we were having regard to the resources available in each Department under the terms of the Estimates and how the Department of Justice and Equality - which will have €62 million less in 2013 than in 2012 - along with the Garda Síochána, was to ensure that resources were wisely used.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It ill behoves the Minister to cite the example of Northern Ireland and Scotland as a reason to support this crazy decision which he knows is wrong. He also knows that 40% of the population of this country resides outside the greater Dublin area and it is they who will be most affected by this decision. He has also closed down Garda stations in the greater Dublin area in Stepaside, Kill-O-the-Grange, Rush and Whitehall, to name but a few. He should not tell the House that this decision is to do with smarter policing. He knows full well - the Garda Commissioner has referred to it - that this is a political choice. The Minister should not attempt to hang the decision on the Garda Commissioner by saying it was contained in the draft policing plan which he presented to him. The Minister had the option to accept, amend, reject or ask for a redrafting of that plan. We know that the considerations were not financial ones. We all know the figures.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Could the Deputy ask a question, please?

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins The Minister's decision means he has removed the Garda presence from communities all over the country. If he thinks that is a positive policing innovation then he is completely out of touch. I reiterate that this decision had nothing to do with financial considerations. It was very cowardly of the Minister to announce these closures by way of e-mail. Why did he not come into the House where they could be debated?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter We are now having a debate on the matter. I am sorry if the Deputy is so agitated and excited that he thinks it is cowardly of me to answer his questions-----

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I am reflecting what communities think about it.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I think the wider community has far greater insight than the Deputy. The wider community understands a number of facts. People understand that we have an agreement with the troika on which we are dependent for public funding.-----

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins The closure of Garda stations is not in the agreement.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt One voice, please, Deputy.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I do not interrupt the Deputy. Perhaps he would do me the-----

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins There is nothing in the troika agreement about closing Garda stations.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt This is Question Time, Deputy Collins. The Minister has the floor.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins He should be truthful in what he is saying. He should stick to the facts.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Deputy seems to believe it adds to the credibility of what he says if he just shouts across the floor. I ask the Deputy to do me the courtesy of allowing me to respond to him. The facts are quite simple. We are dependent on the troika. The agreement was entered into by his party. It envisages a substantial reduction in public expenditure. Like all Departments, my Department is affected. The Garda Síochána is also affected. The Deputy's colleagues when in government indicated that Garda numbers would be reduced to 13,000. They took no steps of any description to reform the Garda districts, the Garda network or to ensure that well-trained members of the force were available to engage in front-line policing. What we have done with the operational advice of the Garda Commissioner and on his operational recommendation ensures that we are maximising as much as possible the professional expertise of members of the force by making them available for front-line police services, making them available to local communities-----

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins Closing down Garda stations is not making them available.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter -----and available to work in crime protection and crime detection. We have recognised a reality which the Deputy has failed to recognise, which is, that a single garda sitting for three or four hours during a morning in a Garda station does not contribute anything of major operational value to crime protection or crime detection. With a reduction in resources and in Garda numbers, we are using the expertise of the force to the maximum benefit of the community.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins It means they will be sitting in community centres instead.

Penalty Point System

 52. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will provide an update on any internal inquiry currently being conducted following reports from a garda whistle blower (detail supplied) that a number of persons had penalty points written off; if he has met with the Garda Commissioner regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54672/12]

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The allegations referred to by the Deputy are not that some people have had penalty points written off, but that in a number of cases members of the Garda Síochána have inappropriately cancelled fixed charge notices, mainly for speeding. The allegations appear to be made on the basis of records of cancellation on the Garda PULSE system. Fixed charge notices are an alternative to prosecution. They give a motorist the opportunity to acknowledge the offence, pay the fixed charge and, where the offence is a penalty point offence, incur the appropriate penalty points. If the motorist does not pay the fixed charge, he or she will in the normal course be prosecuted for the alleged offence.

  With regard to the cancellation of fixed charge notices, it appears from media reports of recent days, and comments made in Dáil Éireann, that there is an assumption that any termination of a fixed charge notice is illegal and that any individual who is the recipient of such notice which is subsequently cancelled is being afforded special treatment. Both assumptions are incorrect. I am concerned that the outcome of the investigation being conducted into the allegations is being unfairly prejudged and I would urge caution in this regard.

  There can be circumstances where the fixed charge notice may be cancelled in accordance with Garda procedures drawn up in light of legislative exemptions and prosecutorial guidelines. Termination or cancellation occurs where it is believed the evidence would not sustain a prosecution or a prosecution would not be appropriate, fair or proportionate. Decisions on terminations or cancellations are governed by Garda policies and procedures, framed around the legislatorial and prosecutorial guidelines issued by the DPP.

  Members of the Garda Síochána at the rank of superintendent district officer or inspector acting district officer, therefore, have discretion to authorise cancellation in appropriate circumstances of fixed charge notices. These can include situations where, for example, exemptions apply in relation to emergency vehicles; where there are evidential difficulties, such as where the registration number registered by a speed camera does not correspond to the vehicle in question; where there are emergency medical circumstances such as, for example, a medical certificate relating to the wearing of seat belts; a sick child being driven to hospital; an imminent birth; a medical professional rushing to a sick or elderly patient; a driver of an ambulance response vehicle. Access to terminate a fixed charge processing incident through PULSE is restricted to users with a rank of inspector or higher.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  I confirm that these allegations were forwarded to my Department by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in September, and, subsequently, by the Department of the Taoiseach, also in September. Following consideration of the documentation the allegations were forwarded to the Commissioner last October. The Garda Commissioner has appointed an Assistant Commissioner to conduct an examination and to report on the allegations. I have received an interim report from the Commissioner, but I will not be making any comment on any of the allegations until the final report is available. These allegations are being taken seriously and are being thoroughly investigated. However, it would be premature and wrong to assume that all of these cancellations of fixed charge notices were inappropriate. I caution against any rush to judgment before all the facts are known. As the Garda Commissioner has said, this would be unfair both to members of the Garda Síochána and the motorists concerned. We must await the outcome of the investigation, which as the Commissioner has said will be both comprehensive and rigorous. I have every confidence that the investigation directed by the Commissioner into the allegations will be conducted professionally.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn The Minister will agree that this is a very serious issue relating to public confidence in the Garda Síochána. I agree that a superintendent has the power to cancel penalty points on receipt of an appeal in writing which outlines the grounds why the points should not be applied. As the Minister has outlined, this is justified in some instances. However, there is no clarity for these decisions. It is also not clear whether the internal Garda report will be published. I ask the Minister to confirm that he will publish the report and that this practice will cease immediately. I note that Conor Faughnan regards this matter as very serious. The Garda Síochána needs to take it seriously and to be aware of the damage. Even if 20,000 of the 50,000 cases were found to be not in accordance with the criteria or not lawful, this would amount to €1.6 million of taxpayers' money. Perhaps the most important issue is that of public confidence. The public must know that the playing field is level for everyone, that it does not depend on status. Unless there are exceptional grounds such as those listed by the Minister in his reply, penalty points cannot be written off. The fine must be paid and the penalty points must be applied.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter It is of the utmost importance that the integrity of the fixed charge system is preserved. When the Deputy said this must stop, I presume it is not his view that where there are appropriate circumstances for a fixed charge to be cancelled, that it should not be cancelled. I gave the Deputy instances of the type of circumstances that can arise. The Deputy may be interested to know that in the three and a half year period from 1 January 2009 to 30 June 2012, a total of 1,460,726 fixed charge notices were issued. The allegations I have received, when examined, apply to fewer than 300 incidents. These are allegations.


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