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 Header Item Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague Convention) Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item An Garda Síochána: Statements

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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  6 o’clock

An Garda Síochána: Statements

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl An chéad phíosa gnó eile ná ráitis maidir leis an nGarda Síochána, statements on An Garda Síochána. We have two hours for this debate. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, to make her opening statement under Standing Order 45.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I welcome this opportunity to address these important and very disturbing issues. First of all I want to stress again, as I have already and as the Taoiseach did during Leaders’ Questions, the utmost seriousness with which the Government and I as Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality regard these issues.

It is essential that the Government, the Oireachtas and all our citizens can trust members of An Garda Síochána to carry out their duties fairly, impartially and in accordance with the law. The public has to be able to believe statistics and all information provided by An Garda Síochána. It is essential that we get the answers we need and I am totally committed to doing so. The issues that have been raised go to the heart of policing in the State. They go to the heart of public confidence in our police force and the area of policing involved, that of roads and traffic, is one that affects every one of our citizens. So many of us have been affected by tragedy on the roads, be it the death of a friend, colleague or family member. We need to know as citizens that those charged with enforcing the laws designed to ensure our safety do so to the highest standards.

  I met the Garda Commissioner yesterday and I conveyed the Government’s very deep concern at the revelations of recent days. The facts we now know about how breath tests were being conducted and the operation of the fixed charge system are completely unacceptable and raise very troubling questions. The scale and detail of these issues became apparent last week at the Garda press conference and I am determined that all the facts will emerge.

  An anonymous complaint was made to the Road Safety Authority in April 2014, outlining a number of issues which included the operation of mandatory alcohol testing, MAT, checkpoints. This complaint was referred to An Garda Síochána by the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. An Garda Síochána indicated in a detailed letter to my Department in May 2014 that it had looked into the claims regarding MAT checkpoints and was satisfied that correct procedures were in place to account for MAT checkpoints that ultimately did go ahead. Every MAT checkpoint, as we know, must be authorised by an inspector. In June of last year my Department was made aware that some discrepancies had been identified in respect of MAT and that An Garda Síochána was commencing a national audit. An Garda Síochána indicated in June 2016 that no issues stemmed from this audit with regard to the performance of MAT checkpoints or prosecutions arising from same. It also set out the new procedures it had already introduced to facilitate the accurate recording of breath tests and outlined that an IT solution had been developed and would be implemented towards the end of 2016.

  Following this preliminary notification to my Department last year, updates were sought from An Garda Síochána by officials in my Department on a regular basis as to the progress of the audit that was then taking place. An Garda Síochána indicated in February 2017 that it was anticipated that the national audit would be finalised in the second quarter of 2017. Although that audit has not yet been finalised, An Garda Síochána announced figures at its press conference relating to the discrepancy between the number of test conducted at MAT checkpoints as per its own records compared with the records held by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. No indication was given as to the scale of this issue at the time of the June 2016 letter and indeed, it is clear from what the Commissioner told me yesterday and from her public statements, that it was not known at that time to Garda management either. It was in order to assess the scale of the problem that the national audit of MAT was launched. I did not become aware of the huge discrepancy in the breath test figures until it was revealed at last week’s Garda press conference.

  Regarding the issue of fixed charge notices, my Department was informed in June 2016 of an error relating to summonses having been incorrectly issued to persons who should have received a fixed charge notice for the offence of not having a valid national car test, NCT, certificate, which became a fixed charge offence in December 2014. An Garda Síochána indicated that following on from those initial findings, further inquiries were being carried out relating to all summonses issued for other fixed charge offences. Colleagues should note that a press statement was issued that day by An Garda Síochána about this issue. In that statement, An Garda Síochána confirmed that it had commenced a review of prosecutions relating to all fixed charge offences. The letter set out the remedial actions already taken by An Garda Síochána at that stage, which included withdrawing prosecutions in any affected cases and putting in place a short-term IT solution within four weeks while a longer-term IT solution was being developed.

Following the preliminary notifications of these problems to my Department last year, updates were sought on a regular basis as to the progress of the review taking place into the fixed charge processing system issues covering the period referred to in the letter from An Garda Síochána, from 1 January 2014 to 27 May 2016. The results of this review were communicated to my Department in a letter received on 14 March 2017.

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