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An Garda Síochána: Statements (Continued)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] The letter indicated that a total of 1,781 cases had been identified where persons had been convicted in situations where they had been incorrectly summonsed to court, either without first having been issued a fixed charge notice or having been issued and paid a fixed charge notice. The letter also set out – this is important – that consultation remained ongoing with the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, with whose office there had been ongoing consultation and the Courts Service in regard to commencing the process of setting aside the convictions in the courts. That engagement with the DPP is ongoing.

An Garda Síochána also advised in that letter, received recently on 14 March, that the DPP had indicated that the review should be extended to include cases before 2014 and that this process was now under way. That, of course, is why the audit was meant to be ongoing until June of this year. That was to be when I was to expect the final report. That is when I had been advised I would get the final report. I became aware of the figure of some 14,700 cases where a conviction took place after an incorrect procedure when An Garda Síochána made that information public last week. It is a matter of great regret to me, as I know it is to everyone in this House, that anyone should be summoned to court inadvertently, with all of the consequences that follow for individuals. It is absolutely critical now that these mistakes be resolved and that the necessary remedial actions be taken.

As for the fixed charge penalty notice, FCPN, at my meeting with the Commissioner yesterday she assured me that arrangements are being put in place in regard to the persons affected. All of these cases will be appealed by An Garda Síochána to ensure the courts set aside these convictions, as they have to. All fines will, of course, be reimbursed and penalties will be removed, and all of those affected will be contacted directly by An Garda Síochána. Individual letters will be sent to all the people concerned and they will begin to be issued on 3 April.

The Commissioner also outlined to me the IT and operational solutions that have been put in place to ensure that these practices would cease. In fact, at the ministerial meeting yesterday, which was scheduled ahead of all of this emerging, both the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and I were assured by both Professor Cusack and all the other people present that the new procedures were in place, that we could be confident about the new procedures and that there are changes being made to the machines, using GPS and further information, so the kind of mistake associated with the technical attributes of the devices can never happen again.

In the case of mandatory alcohol tests, An Garda Síochána initially put in place new paper-based recording and verification processes and, in November 2016, a new specific data-recording IT upgrade was installed on the Garda PULSE system. The net effect of the new IT upgrade was that personnel now have to record the serial number of the device used for each breath test plus the meter reading before and after the checkpoint was concluded. This, apparently, was not being done before. It is clearly only one of the explanations for this situation. Data from the device are now used to verify the total number of breath tests conducted at each checkpoint.

The focus now, however, has to be on what is being done to get to the full truth of what transpired and the accountability that must be brought to bear. Clearly, there is a need for an investigation to hold responsible those people, at all levels of the Garda organisation, who allowed such large discrepancies in the breath-testing figures to arise. The Commissioner announced an internal investigation yesterday, as colleagues will be aware. Following consideration and discussion at Cabinet today, the Government has decided that there should be an independent investigation, and consultations will now take place with the Policing Authority on how to achieve that. I met the chairman of the authority, Ms Josephine Feehily, yesterday and informed her that I was formally referring both of these matters to that body under the Garda Síochána Act. The chairman informed me at that point that the authority will have an independent professional audit undertaken of the steps taken to resolve these issues. That is an essential part of providing the necessary public reassurance. The clear view of the Government following my briefing of its members at today's Cabinet meeting was that these revelations have given rise to the most serious concerns, not just among public representatives but also among members of the public. The Government accepts fully that we need explanations. That is why we are making use of the full legal mechanisms in place to ensure that we will establish the full facts and that there can be accountability in this area.

It is absolutely essential that the process of reform be rigorously implemented in An Garda Síochána, and that it be seen to be implemented, including through close oversight by the Policing Authority. As the Taoiseach stated earlier, the Government believes the level of public concern regarding some issues affecting the Garda Síochána is now so profound that it is time to conduct a thorough, comprehensive and independent root-and-branch review of An Garda Síochána. Quite a number of colleagues have already called for this. This is clearly a proposal that will require further detailed consideration by the Government. As the Taoiseach said, any such proposal should command widespread support in the Oireachtas and accordingly be the subject of consultation with the Opposition and, ultimately, approval by the Oireachtas.

We in government accept that change is required. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have introduced the most significant reforms in policing since the foundation of the State. Just last week we had the first assistant commissioner fully appointed by an independent body. We have the Policing Authority, which represents a radical change in the oversight of policing in this country. At the end of this year, its second year, it is subject to review. The body, under the legislation, is to inform me how it is working and whether there are any changes it would like to see. I will await its report later on this year. Additional powers have been given to GSOC and greater civilianisation has been implemented. We need to do more, however. I hope that Opposition Deputies will accept the offer to work with the Government on this and contribute to achieving the policing service we all wish to see.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl In accordance with the agreement made earlier, there are ten minutes for each spokesperson. That can include a statement and a series of questions.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality mentioned in her statement that she became aware of discrepancies in the fixed charge notice system in June 2016, when the matter was brought to her attention by An Garda Síochána. We know that An Garda Síochána conducted a review and that this review established there were 14,700 wrongful convictions. Last Thursday, An Garda Síochána issued a press statement in which it referred to this review it carried out and the 14,700 wrongful convictions recorded. It claimed in its statement that, based on the findings and inquiries of that review, a number of solutions were identified by Garda IT to avoid, as far as possible, a recurrence of the issues highlighted. It stated that, as of 15 July 2016, an IT solution had been designed and rolled out. I take it from that statement of An Garda Síochána that the force was aware, by 15 July 2016 at the latest, that there were 14,700 wrongful convictions. The Tánaiste said in her statement that she became aware of the scale of the number of convictions only recently. When did she first become aware of there being any issue in respect of wrongful convictions on this issue?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Have we changed the procedure? Are there not statements now?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The procedure was to have statements and questions, whatever the Members decided. We can take all the questions and come back to the Minister.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Whatever the Ceann Comhairle likes.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald We cannot.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl We can, actually. Does the Minister want to take five minutes of questions from Deputy O'Callaghan and then we-----

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Yes.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I would prefer to ask a question and get an answer.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl That is fine.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I apologise; I understood the procedure was different so the Deputy might repeat his question.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan The Minister said in her statement that she became aware of the scale of the number of convictions only this month, when she was notified of it. When did she become aware in general that there were issues in respect of wrongful convictions arising from this matter?

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