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Road Traffic Offences (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] It seems not only that the Deputies want to impugn the entirety of the Garda Síochána, but also that they now have the Garda Commissioner in their aim.

I emphasise that the allegations that are the subject of this Topical Issue came to the notice of my Department in September and to my personal notice in early October. As far as I know and have been advised, the allegations were not brought to the notice of the Garda Commissioner until we wrote to him. The same individual may have been making complaints about other matters to the confidential recipient. As far as I know, they were not these matters.

Following the introduction of fixed charges, the Garda established a policy and procedures on the termination or cancellation of fixed-charge notices. They were set out in 2005 in the third edition of the full user manual on policies and procedures in the fixed-charge processing system. In essence, the policy and procedures give district officers, inspector acting district officers and the inspector in the fixed-charge processing office the authority to cancel fixed-charge notices, in line with the policy and procedures framed around legislative exemptions contained in road traffic legislation and regulations and in conjunction with the specific guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Specific procedures are in place for the cancellation of these notices.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly Exactly.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The cancellation policy also seeks to reflect the guidelines of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecutors and the Garda declaration of professional values and ethical standards, both of which govern other factors that adhere to the principles of fairness and proportionality and provide that in pursuing their public duties, gardaí are required to adhere to the principles of legality and apply the law in a manner that is fair, equitable and appropriate to the particular circumstances of individual cases. In essence, 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. Gardaí at the rank of superintendent, district officer or inspector acting district officer have the discretion to authorise cancellation in appropriate circumstances. I illustrated some of these circumstances during Question Time. There are exemptions relating to emergency vehicles or in cases where a medical necessity has resulted in an individual speeding. I want to absolutely confirm that these allegations will be fully and properly investigated. The result of the investigation will be made known. There is no question of a conspiracy or cover-up, regardless of how much the Deputies want to advocate that there is.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I have not insinuated in any way that none of these terminations should have happened. I have said that the scale is frightening and merits serious investigation. It looks as if there is a serious delay in dealing with it. The termination of fixed penalty notices was mentioned in the original correspondence in January. The notion of hanging people is not something I am remotely interested in. I am not worried about the individuals who are on the list. I am worried about the massive scale of it and the implications for road safety and the running of the Garda Síochána.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly On the day the extension of penalty points into other areas is being discussed, it is absolutely critical that a transparent system is in place and that residents and citizens can stand over it. We are not making any assumptions. We are alleging, based on evidence we have seen, that a culture exists that allows one to have one's motoring offences and penalty points written off as long as one knows gardaí. That has been confirmed to me in the correspondence I have received from numerous gardaí in the past week or more. It is not the case that there was just one whistleblower - there were two. Information on ticket-fixing was brought to the attention of the whistleblower by the second person in April of this year. Nobody is saying there are no exceptions, or there should not be any exceptions. That does not explain how a judge who sits in judgment on other people could have three instances of termination, how one garda could write off a thousand cases or how 200 Garda cases could be written off over an August bank holiday weekend. I remind the House that citizens who have eight or ten penalty points have loaded insurance premiums because they do not have the benefit of knowing a garda. On the basis of what the Minister has said and in light of his inaction and that of the Garda Commissioner since January, it seems that the blue wall of silence, which the Minister spoke out about in the aftermath of the Morris tribunal, is still in place. The Minister has done nothing to protect honest gardaí who want to clean up the situation.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I will be brief. Deputy Daly has made most of the points I wish to make. We need a public inquiry to reveal any discrepancies or malpractice that might exist in the system. If the Minister is so confident that such practices are now taking place, he should have no problem clearing the way for such an inquiry to take place. It would be good for the country if people were to be assured that there is not one law for well-connected and wealthy people and another law for the ordinary Joe or Mary who happens to find himself or herself in circumstances in which penalty points might be applicable. The ability to work of people in the taxi industry, for example, can be affected in this way. That has to be addressed. The system has to be seen to be fair, clean, open and transparent. Everybody who has penalty points should have to appeal them in the proper way.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter I reiterate what I said during Question Time. Everyone should be treated equally and fairly in the context of this matter. I am simply not prejudging the allegations that have been made, which is what the Deputies are doing. As I read it, the express allegation - or certainly the implication - is that anyone who has had penalty points or fixed charges set aside has benefited from wrongdoing.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly No.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter That is the way the allegation is framed. The Deputies know that. It is the story they are trying to put out. If there has been wrongdoing and fixed charges have been improperly set aside, of course I would want to know about it and there should be transparency about it. If some kind of corrupt culture exists, we would want to know about that too. I do not know that to be the case. It is being investigated by an assistant commissioner. Specific procedures, legal provisions and guidelines from the Director of Public Prosecutions ensure there are circumstances in which fixed-charge notices are terminated. That has been entirely ignored in the allegations that have been made, although I have put it on the record of the House. It was not contained in the letter setting out the allegations. The allegation is that as part of a widespread conspiracy, tens of thousands of fixed charges are being written off. In the context of what has come from a person whom I assume to be a member of the Garda Síochána, there is no acknowledgement of what the legal position actually is.

I understand from the Garda Commissioner that 1,460,726 fixed-charge notices were issued in the three and a half years between 1 January 2009 and 30 June 2012. The documentation forwarded to the Commissioner contained 402 allegations. When an examination of the allegations identified some that had been duplicated, the number of actual allegations listed was reduced to 197. While many of the listed allegations mentioned specific instances, in some cases instances were mentioned without any details being provided. Several allegations are not quantifiable because they are quite vague, merely citing hundreds of cases. Allegations that can be followed up from the information supplied will be examined. I want to make it absolutely clear that there will be no cover-up of anything on my watch. I have asked for this matter to be fully investigated and for me to receive a report on it. When I am in a position to report to the House on the outcome of the investigation, I will do so. If I form the view that something unsatisfactory is arising in the context of the outcome of the investigation, I will ensure it is addressed. I want to assure people outside this House that if they receive a fixed charge, it is a serious matter and they should meet the payments due on the fixed charge. If there are extenuating circumstances and there is a valid reason for them not to pay the fixed charge, I remind them that a procedure whereby they can set out the issues they want to raise with the Garda Síochána and seek to have the fixed charge set aside has been in place for many years.

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