Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald spoke about the late Dara Quigley and her question was responded to by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.
Mick Barry, of the Solidarity-People Before Profit party, also spoke about Dara and Fine Gael’s Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee responded to him.
Mary Lou McDonald: “Tánaiste, yesterday, the Taoiseach indicated that you would be more than happy, in fact delighted, it seemed, to come before the House and make a statement on the matters surrounding Templemore and some of the issues that we touched on and Leaders’ Questions. You also indicated that you would be quite happy to take questions in that regard. So I want to know, when you propose to do that.
“And can I also say, Tánaiste, when you take to your feet on that occasion, I would like you also to shed some light on the case of Dara Quigley. A young woman who died by suicide on April 12. She had been detained by gardaí some days previously, under the Mental Health Act. She had been walking naked on a Dublin street when detained and Garda CCTV footage of this detention was posted on Facebook. A really deplorable and revolting turn of events and something that has brought great hardship to her family and clearly brought very, very great distress to Dara. So we mark her passing and when we talk about Garda culture and reform and accountability, I suppose this the rawest end, the sharpest end of deplorable, a deplorable culture of humiliation and disregard for human beings.”
“So, Tánaiste, I hope that you will, as the Taoiseach promised, come before the House, make your statement, take questions and I hope also that you might shed some light on the accountability that will be held for the life of Dara Quigley.”
Frances Fitzgerald: “Well, in relation to the individual case that you mention, deputy. Everybody would be totally disturbed and appalled by the story that has been reported in the media and actions are following on from that. As you know, that has been reported, there is an investigation and there is a GSOC inquiry but, just to say, of course our thoughts are with, are with that young woman’s family, given the appalling and very, very sad sequence of events. No doubt, the business committee can discuss the question of ministers appearing before the Dáil and, certainly, I want to make the point that, I don’t want to cut across in any way the work that the Public Accounts Committee is doing in relation to Templemore.”
Mick Barry: “There has been media comment on the circumstances leading up to the death of the journalist and blogger Dara Quigley. Very serious questions have been raised about the Garda Síochána and their treatment of the most vulnerable in society. I want to leave those questions for another day.”
“Today, I want to ask you a question on dual diagnosis. Dara suffered and struggled with both addiction and mental health problems. She received help from many agencies but what was available was not sufficient. A particular problem was the lack of dual diagnosis services for psychiatric and addiction problems are treated together in a professional and properly funded manner. My question to the Tánaiste: does she see a legislative pathway to addressing this problem?”
Helen McEntee: “Just to join you in offering my condolences to her family and to her friends. This is, you know, it’s an absolutely terrible situation and it’s deplorable what has happened consequently since. The issue of dual diagnosis is something that we haven’t dealt with in the past and we know that in a significant number of suicides, there is a link between drug or alcohol use as well. We’re currently developing a clinical programme on the issue of dual diagnosis.”
“We’ve appointed a national clinical lead who will be working to develop a programme which means that if somebody is suffering from either a drug or alcohol problem that is leading on to a mental health problem, that there will be a clear clinical pathway for our doctors and nurses within our acute hospitals but also in our primary care settings so there’s work well underway and we’d be hoping to continue that into the year.”
Niall Kelly, head of Internal Audit at An Garda Síochána
You may recall the near one million breath tests that gardaí recorded they took between November 1, 2011 and October 31, 2016, but, in March, conceded they didn’t take.
Further to this.
Conor Lally, in The Irish Times, reports that the head of internal audit at An Garda Síochána, Niall Kelly, has contacted the Policing Authority about the Garda review of these figures.
Mr Lally reports:
Mr Kelly has pointed out that neither he nor his staff were involved in the review process. Because of that, and also because the formal rigours of an audit process were not followed, he has insisted the process cannot be called an audit.
Senior Garda management have referred to the process as an audit.
At a press conference when the scandal broke in March, Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey referred to it as an audit.
A paragraph Niall Kelly deleted from the final version of a report on the Garda College in 2011, recorded in the 2017 Interim Audit Report into Financial Procedures in the college
Readers may recall how, last week, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and other senior gardai attended a Public Accounts Committee meeting to discuss financial irregularities at the Garda College in Templemore.
Mr Kelly also attended PAC, during which it was discussed a matter mentioned in the Interim Audit Report into Financial Procedures in the Garda College which was given to PAC in March.
This matter was in relation to how, in 2011, he deleted a paragraph (above) from the final version of his Report to the Garda Commissioner in relation to Financial Controls in 2010 – after he was assured that the issues were addressed.
In PAC, Mr Kelly had the following exchange with Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, in which Mr Kelly said he felt he had been “duped” and that he was caught in the “circling of wagons”.
Micheal Culhane, executive director of finance and services at An Garda Siochana, was also involved in the exchange.
David Cullinane: “Page 14 of the report refers to the Garda Commissioner and 2 March 2011 and contains a paragraph which says “no assurances were given”. That paragraph was removed and deleted and Mr. Kelly said this was because he was given assurances.”
Niall Kelly: “I was provided with a summarised report from Mr Culhane [Michael Culhane, executive director of finance and services at An Garda Siochana] and assurances that the issues were being dealt with.”
Cullinane: “Did Mr. Culhane give the assurances to Mr. Kelly?”
Michael Culhane: “I did not give them directly to Mr. Kelly. It went to the CAO showing the progress that had been made on some of the issues.”
Cullinane: “However, the assurances were given by Mr. Culhane. The CAO was the conduit but the assurances were given by Mr. Culhane.”
Culhane: “I did not give assurances. I gave an update on the report.”
Cullinane: “However, Mr. Kelly saw this as assurances because he said he deleted the paragraph because of assurances that were given.”
Kelly: “Yes. I had conversations with the audit committee.”
Cullinane: “Who gave Mr. Kelly the assurances he talked about?”
Kelly: “I got the report. I spoke to the CAO at the time. I spoke to the chairman of the audit committee at the time. It had gone to the Commissioner. The note had come back from the Commissioner, in the margins of the letter back from the Commissioner, that this report should be provided to me. I had highlighted my issues to the highest level in the organisation. Ultimately, my role is an advisory role.”
Cullinane: “Everyone is passing the buck.”
Kelly: “I am not passing the…”
Cullinane: “I do not say Mr. Kelly is here. He deleted a vital paragraph based on assurances that action was being taken. Who gave him those assurances?”
Kelly: “The CAO primarily.”
Cullinane: “Who did he get them from?”
Kelly: “From Mr. Culhane.”
Cullinane: “That is what I am trying to establish exactly. Mr. Kelly’s view now is that those assurances were not worth the paper they were written on. Would that be a fair...”
Kelly: “That would be true. I would also say that it was a mistake on my part to delete that paragraph.”
Cullinane: “Mr. Kelly is brave enough to accept that he made a mistake.”
Cullinane: “I commend him on that. Does he feel he was duped?”
Kelly: “I do.”
Cullinane: “Does he regret that he was duped in that way?”
Cullinane: “Who does he believe duped him? Perhaps he should name offices rather than individuals.”
Kelly: “I think that is an unfair question to ask. It could be a range of people.”
Vice Chairman Alan Kelly: “In the interest of fairness, does Mr. Kelly feel it was multiple people or one person?”
Kelly: “Reference was made to culture. There was a different culture at that stage. There was a culture of circling the wagons and I got caught trying to bang into the wagons.”
Cullinane: “Does Mr. Kelly agree that the culture of An Garda Síochána up to 2015 was to circle the wagons rather than to accept there was wrongdoing and correct it? Would that be his view as head of internal audit?”
Kelly:Speaking now, having gone through the past five years and writing this report, that is the only conclusion I can come to.”
Set up under Judge Nial Fennelly as a result of disturbing discoveries about the Garda investigation into the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, the commission took three years, nine barristers and 800 pages to come to its conclusions.
We asked ‘Legal Coffee Drinker’, what’s it all about.
Broadsheet: “Legal Coffee Drinker, what’s it all about?”
Legal Coffee Drinker: “It’s about two things. Firstly, the degree to which superior officers in the Gardai were aware of the surreptitious recording of non-999 calls in divisional Garda stations from 1985 onwards.
Secondly, the extent to which surviving recordings of such calls made to and from Bandon Garda station discloses misconduct by police officers in the Sophie Toscan du Plantier investigation.”
Broadsheet: “And what did the report conclude on this first issue?”
LCD: “It confirmed that the recording of non-999 calls had systematically taken place over decades without the knowledge or consent of parties to these calls. It confirmed that among the calls so included were calls between accused and their solicitors.
It confirmed that the Telecommunications Division in Garda HQ was aware that non-999 calls were being systematically recorded, having received at least one expression of concern about this from a member of the Gardai.
However it took the view that this knowledge was not shared by Garda hierarchy, who were entirely unaware that such recording was taking place. It also found that there was no evidence of any general practice of making use of the recordings, although it couldn’t rule out the fact that they might have been so used in specific cases.”
Broadsheet: “But… this wasn’t a practice confined to one particular Garda station?
LCD: “No, the practice of recording non-999 calls was routinely applicable to all divisional Garda stations, for many years, decades in fact.”
Broadsheet: “And Garda top brass didn’t know?”
LCD: “Previous Garda Commissioners gave evidence that they had believed recording was confined to 999 calls only. The Fennelly Commission accepted this and described the situation as ‘an extraordinary picture of almost complete ignorance’.”
Broadsheet: “Was there any attempt to query the assertions of the Garda Commissioners in this regard?”
LCD: “Where there is no documentation, and no member of the force who comes forward to give evidence of knowledge on the part of the Garda hierarchy, it can be difficult to challenge even unlikely assertions. The Commission did struggle a little to find an explanation for the complete ignorance. The suggestion was made to them that perhaps because the Garda hierarchy was based in Dublin, they were out of touch with what went on in country areas.”
Broadsheet: “The old Nuremberg defence (sucks teeth).”
Broadsheet: “What does the report tell us about the Sophie Toscan du Plantier investigation?”
LCD: “To understand this portion of the report, it’s helpful to start with a brief account of the case brought by Ian Bailey against the Gardai in relation to their conduct of this investigation.
He alleged mistreatment of himself and his partner Jules Thomas by a number of Gardai, including the late Detective Sergeant Liam Hogan, whom he alleged told him he would “be found dead in a ditch with a bullet in the back of your head”.
Also giving evidence for Bailey was Martin Graham, who accused Detective Garda Jim Fitzgerald of having given him cannabis for information against Bailey. Another witness was Marie Farrell, who claimed that Fitzgerald and others had coerced or induced her into making a false statement identifying Bailey, knowing it to be false, and further coerced or induced her into making further complaints that she was being threatened by Bailey.”
Broadsheet: “Do all these people crop up in the Report?”
LCD: “They do. Hogan, Fitzgerald, Graham and Farrell are clearly identifiable in the Report as Sergeant Alpha, Garda Delta, Mrs A and Mr S respectively.
The calls transcribed in the report include a conversation between Garda Fitzgerald and another garda regarding an assault alleged to have been carried out by Marie Farrell’s husband, Chris, on another man, Mr C.
In this conversation, Garda Fitzgerald suggests the possibility of Chris Farrell making a counter-statement for assault against Mr C advance of Mr C making his complaint. The other Garda (described as Garda Epsilon in the Report) responds by saying:
“Sure we can always pre-date it if it comes to it”.
Detective Garda Fitzgerald says:
Towards the end of the same telephone conversation, in the course of discussing actions open to Mr and Mrs Farrell in the event that Mr C were to make a complaint, the following exchange takes place:
Garda Fitzgerald: “And you can always say that sure he drew a punch and missed as you drew back, you know what I mean. ”
Garda Epsilon: “Yeah.”
Garda Fitzgerald: “He’s a man of the world, he knows what to say and do. ”
Garda Epsilon: “Oh yeah.”
Garda Fitzgerald: “What?”
Garda Epsilon: “Oh, we’ll cover him alright.”
In evidence to the Commission, Garda Fitzgerald said that he was talking about an actual assault on Mr Farrell by Mr C which Mr Farrell had told him had happened. Garda Epsilon indicated that he was not aware of any such assault.
There’s another recording of a conversation between Fitzgerald and Marie Farrell discussing the possibility of a further complaint of assault against her husband Chris by a person who had previously acted as babysitter for their children.
In it, Garda Fitzgerald appears to suggest that Mr and Mrs Farrell could seek to dissuade the babysitter from making a complaint by threatening to make their own complaint that they previously assaulted one of the children of Mr and Mrs Farrell.”
The conversation goes as follows:
Garda Fitzgerald: “No, no, no, but fucking going to the guards, they will in their bollix, ha.”
Mrs Farrell: “Oh, I know she is all mouth.”
Garda Fitzgerald: “She’s only ha? Do you know, put it this way, Mrs Farrell, you could also say we will go to the guards. When you were babysitting that you assaulted [a named child]. Ha?”
Mrs Farrell: “Yeah.”
Garda Fitzgerald: :D’you know what I mean? Be easy for [the named child] to say — or, you know, that he got a belt. Ha?”
When asked about this discussion by the Commission, Garda Fitzgerald said that Mr and Mrs Farrell had previously alleged to him that the babysitter was slapping the children.
He said that he had made the remark about it being easy for [the named child] to say that he got a belt to overcome what he perceived as a general reluctance on the part of Mr and Mrs Farrell to make statements of complaint, by assuring them that it would be an easy matter for the child in question to make a statement if he or she wanted to do so.”
Broadsheet: “Hmm. Was that the only time Garda Fitzgerald came up in the Report?”
LCD: ” No. There’s another reference to a recorded conversation he had with Mr Martin Graham.”
Broadsheet; “The man who alleged he was given cannabis?”
LCD: “Yes. This conversation differs from the other recordings because it was recorded with the knowledge of Garda Fitzgerald. It took place in a car on a journey to Mr Graham’s home, and goes as follows:-
Garda Fitzgerald: “In case you go to pub tonight… I have a bit of money there you know, a little bit of stuff, you know, I’ve a bit – I’ve got a few smokes as well for you.”
Mr Graham: “Have you got some hash?”
Garda Fitzgerald: “I have cash, I’ve cash and I have something in a- and I have a few smokes here in the – you know, you said you were starved, were you.”
Garda Fitzgerald told the Commission that the reference to ‘stuff’ related to cigarettes and plug tobacco which he had purchased in a shop before they met Mr Graham at evening. He suggested that Mr Graham made the reference to ‘hash’ in order to entrap him.
The Commission also heard from the telecommunications technician who had recorded and transcribed the interview, voluntarily adding the words “Lighting a cigarette and laughing” into the transcript immediately after the reference to hash. The Commission felt that the technician had not been authorized to insert these words and they did not feel that Mr Graham was joking.
Broadsheet: “So what then did the Commission conclude about Garda Fitzgerald’s conduct?”
LCD: “It accepted there was a conflict of fact between Garda Fitzgerald and Garda Epsilon as to whether or not Mr C had previously assaulted Chris Farrell. However, it felt that the question of a fabrication of a complaint against Mr C did not ultimately arise because Garda Epsilon had been able to persuade Mr C not to pursue its assault complaint.
As regards the complaint made against the babysitter, it held that, although there were some ‘aspects of concern’, it was not possible to establish whether or not Ms Farrell had previously told Garda Fitzgerald about an alleged assault and therefore whether or not he had been suggesting the fabrication of evidence.
Finally, in relation to the hash issue, while rejecting the suggestion that Mr Graham was joking when he referred to hash, it found that Mr Graham’s request was not evidence that Garda Fitzgerald had expressly or impliedly offered to pay him for hash, in circumstances where the conversation with the reference to hash had been voluntarily recorded by Garda Fitzgerald.”
Broadsheet: “Anything about Sergeant Hogan?”
LCD: Yes. There was a transcript of a conversation between Sergeant Hogan and Garda Fitzgerald, regarding a statement made by one of their colleagues about Jules Thomas [partner of Ian Bailey’. In it, he had written:
“I knew she was making every effort to tell me the truth.”
Sergeant Hogan took issue with this portion of the statement, saying to Garda Fitzgerald:
“Fuck it, she wasn’t anyway…. Ah fuck it, it’s awful. When I see your friend then, like writing them stupid fucking statements, like I mean… what man…”
“Yes, that statement has to get fucking chopped up anyway.”
There was also another conversation between Sergeant Hogan and a further garda (described as Sergeant Beta in the Report) which discussed amending a written statement of a witness who had said that he remembered someone having told him that Mr Bailey was in the pub on a particular night.
In the phone call Sergeant Beta expressed annoyance at the hearsay element of this statement, saying:
“[it] undermines the whole thing… I will take that out so to fuck will I?”
Sergeant Hogan’s response was inaudible.
The Commission Report also contained details of conversations that Sergeant Hogan had had with civilians and journalists regarding the Bailey case, in which he referred to Mr Bailey in pejorative terms.”
Broadsheet: “What sort of terms?”
LCD: “A ‘cunning bastard“, “he’s fucking playing some game at the minute“, “he’s that cute“, “he has a temper threshold that, like he’d snap like that“, “beaten the one he’s living with, sure he’s beaten her to a pulp a few times“, “sex was the fucking motive“, “she did a runner if he got near her, you see, and that was it an the caught her.”
Broadsheet: “Gulp. And what conclusions did the tribunal reach on Sergeant Hogan?
LCD: “That he – and other members of the Gardai – were prepared to contemplate altering, modifying or suppressing evidence that did not assist them in furthering their belief that Mr Bailey was the murderer, but that there was no actual evidence of such alteration or modification having taken place as the statements objected to appeared unaltered on the investigation file.”
Broadsheet: “We don’t have any evidence to contradict their explanations and where no explanation is provided no harm was done?”
LCD: “A bit, yes. As with its conclusion on the systematic recording of tape recordings generally.”
Broadsheet: “So your overall conclusion?”
LCD: “The Garda Siochana is a mysterious place and keeps its secrets close. Also, the Hogan & Fitzgerald modus operandi is a little worrying, to say the least. This wasn’t Sergeant Hogan’s first case. His father commanded the Garda in West Cork for decades. Hogan himself was involved at a high level in the Catherine Nevin investigation and in investigating Martin Cahill. He’s a familiar figure in Irish true-crime books. Presumably there are recordings of his phone calls in other cases. It would be interesting to hear them.”
Broadsheet: “With consequences for appeals generally?”
LCD: “I think this report will have consequences for appeals generally in another respect. Unconstitutional recording of phone calls between an accused and their solicitors raise issues as to the lawfulness of the accused’s detention and any confession subsequently made by them. We done?”
Broadsheet: “Thank you very much Legal Coffee Drinker.”
LCD: “Give me a bit more notice next time.”
Broadsheet: “Of course, sorry. Thanks. Have a great weekend.”
From top: Garda Keith Harrison; Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan
You may recall Garda whistleblower Keith Harrison whose allegations will be looked at as part of the Charleton Inquiry.
He’s been on sick leave from Donegal Town Garda Station since May 2014.
He was on partial pay (33%) from May 2014 until September 2015 but has not received any pay from An Garda Siochana since September 2015.
Garda Harrison is going back to work on Monday, following mediation talks this week which were chaired by the former head of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey.
The mediation talks, which focussed on returning to work and the payment of arrears, followed a report on RTÉ’s This Week last weekend concerning Garda Harrison.
The report effectively explained how, in late January of this year, Garda Harrison was ordered to return to work in Donegal Town Garda Station – despite a series of Garda-commissioned medical assessments recommending that Garda Harrison not be returned to the station where he had previously worked.
Some more details about these reports:
In September 2014, Garda Keith Harrison met Dr Oghenovo Oghuvbu, who was a specialist occupational physician with the Garda Occupational Health Department at the time.
On October 6, 2014, Dr Oghuvbu wrote a report to the Executive Director Human Resources and People Development at An Garda Síochána John Barrett, about Garda’s Harrison.
In his report, Dr Oghuvby stated that he believed Garda Harrison’s illness could have been born out of a work-related environment and that he would be fit to return to work, on the basis that a safe work environment would be provided for him.
“[Garda Harrison] continues to experience some impairment in his sense of well-being. This is particularly in respect of his returning to his current workplace (Donegal division) while the investigation is ongoing. This is also of concern to his treating clinical physicians.”
Dr Oghuvbu also required an “urgent case conference” in relation to Garda Harrison’s return to work that would encompass local Garda management, staff from Garda human resources and the Chief Medical Officer.
It’s understood this case conference did not take place and it’s unclear how Garda management actually responded to Dr Oghuvbu’s call for an “urgent case conference”.
In November 2016, the Garda’s Assistant Chief Medical Officer Dr Richard Quigley met with Garda Harrison.
Dr Quigley carried out a more in-depth assessment of Garda Harrison and determined that Garda Harrison should return to work and that his issues or illnesses were related to the work environment.
Specifically, Dr Quigley wrote to Garda human resources, stating:
“Given work circumstances, which are well known to management, I consider it prudent if consideration is given to Garda Harrison being assigned to duties in a station other than his previous location.“
In addition, Dr Quigley recommended that Garda Harrison be seen by an independent specialist.
In turn, the Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan commissioned a report from Dr Patrick Devitt, a Dublin-based consultant psychiatrist.
In January, 2017, as the commissioned independent specialist, Dr Devitt stated that Garda Harrison’s injuries were born out of his workplace environment and that he firmly agreed with Dr Quigley’s recommendation for Garda Harrison to return to work.
But it was also stipulated that Garda Harrison should not be returned to the station he previously worked in.
Garda Harrison only obtained details of these three reports, and their findings, last Friday – days before the This Week report and the mediation talks earlier this week.
Had Garda Harrison and his legal team not had sight of these reports – in which the Garda’s own medical assessments state his illness was work-related and that it was recommended he be placed somewhere other than Donegal Town – it may have been difficult for him to argue for a placement other than Donegal Town station.
If An Garda Siochana insisted that he still had to go to Donegal Town station, this would have contradicted the advice given to them by their own medical assessments.
It should also be noted that Garda Harrison and his team continuously looked for these reports since 2014 but didn’t get anywhere with their requests.
At the mediation talks, during which the chief superintendent involved sat in another room, Garda Harrison did eventually get permission to go to a station other than Donegal Town station.
However, on the matter of pay, and getting paid in arrears for the time he’s been on sick leave, An Garda Siochana did not budge – despite their own reports stating he was out because of work-related issues.
Garda Harrison’s legal team was told by mediator Kieran Mulvey that Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan will “face down” any complaints and had the support of every garda in the Donegal division.
A Garda press officer said the force does not comment on “remarks by other parties” but denied the Commissioner had ever made such a statement.
It is understood that the Oireachtas Justice Committee has agreed to give the Garda Commissioner a week to respond to a list of questions on how the force responded to the controversies over breath tests and fixed charge notices The committee will meet tomorrow to sign off on the questions.
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has already said an interim report will be delivered on the controversies in a month and a final report in 3 months.
However, the Justice Committee will focus on the timeline of the gardaí response to the discrepancies over 14,700 wrongful convictions and the number of breath tests being exaggerrated by 1 million.
The Taoiseach told the Dáil that he received the Fennelly Report last weekend and has given it to the Attorney General. The report was into the recordings of phone calls at garda stations.
He said the report ran to over 740 pages, with the summary running to 85 pages. He said he would publish it as soon as the Attorney General informs him that he can.
Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan before the Justice Committee:
Pressed to offer an explanation as to how the inaccurate recording happened, the Garda Commissioner said it could possibly relate to the fact that checkpoints were designed to be a preventative measure.
“Perhaps it wasn’t as valued as detections“, she told Fianna Fail Deputy Jack Chambers, but said she did not want to detract from the diligent work done by gardai and said the process of establishing the facts was still ongoing.
Deputy Chambers pressed the garda delegation on whether a bonus system paid to senior gardaí could have played a part in the exaggerated figures.
The commissioner said she did not know the details of such a bonus system and agreed to come back to the committee.
From top: Passing Out at Templemore; Eamonn Farrell (left) hands over a disk of images from a Pegida [anti-Islam group] rally in Dublin after a warrant was presented by Garda Inspector Des McTiernan (right) in March 2016.
A force that has become its own worst enemy.
Eamonn Farrell writes:
Finally, the end of the road for An Garda Síochána, as the Government announce “a root and branch review” of the organisation, which for too long has travelled its own path, ignoring the attempts of governments to carry out corrective actions and refusing to recognise or cooperate with the oversight bodies installed at various stages to try and rein in the growing abuse of its position as guardians and protectors of the citizens of the state.
With mounting evidence of abuses of power, corruption, and the use of illegal methods to obtain prosecutions, finally culminating in what seems to be a brazen attempt to deceive the Government and its citizens, as to the effective carrying out of its duties in the area of road safety, by fraudulently massaging statistics, regardless of the damaging effect this would have on the lives of sections of the population.
Despite this, the Government has been slow to act, at all times finding excuses to avoid accepting the reality that this was not the actions of a few individuals, but the result of the institutionalised inward-looking culture of a force which has become a law onto itself.
The recent disclosures bring into question the reliability of its detection figures in relation to crime and indeed the safety of convictions at all levels.
It is ironic that this has come to a head during the tenure of the first female head of the force. There is a suspicion that she took over the role with an agenda for change, but faced distrust, opposition and animosity from the male dominated management team which she inherited.
An animosity which found expression among some of the crime correspondents whose cosy relationship with the old guard was suddenly disrupted. Resulting in negative media comment regarding her support in the force, which made it more difficult, if not impossible to carry out her promise to reform the force in the time frame intended.
In the end such opposition may have backfired, as now finally the Government, under pressure from all sides, has decided that enough is enough.
And this time, political opposition and public anger may not allow them or any new government to stall in carrying out the root and branch changes required.
The illusion has finally been shattered, and hopefully out of the ashes will grow a force which will be trust worthy and upstanding and deserve the support and admiration of citizens of this Republic.
Eamonn Farrell is head of the Rollingnews photo agency.
Further to her meeting with Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan yesterday.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald made a statement about the latest Garda controversies including the near one million breathalyser tests that gardaí claimed they carried out, but didn’t, and the 14,700 wrongful convictions for motoring offences.
During her statement, Ms Fitzgerald said “the scale and detail of these issues became apparent last week at the Garda press conference but I want to say I’m determined that all of the facts will emerge”.
She also said:
“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.”
“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 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.”
After making her statement, Ms Fitzgerald fielded questions from different politicians, including Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan.
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?”
Frances Fitzgerald: “The answer to that is the letter that I received in June 2016 from, the department received it actually, from Michael Twomey, outlining that they were concerned about some issues. There was no figure mentioned so I was not aware of the 14,700 and I don’t believe that the gardai, at that point, were aware of it because that was an earlier stage. The audit wasn’t completed and they had put some procedures in place to make sure though, that they would not be further, there would not be further problems. But they hadn’t done a national audit at that point. So they weren’t sure about the figures. And it was only when they had the press conference last week that they did a national audit, that involved well over 100,000 and that then got to a point where it was the figure of 14,700 was arrived at. So they hadn’t done the full national audit at that point. Is my understanding. Is that right? [to assistant on her right].”
O’Callaghan: “I’m taking from your answer that you were aware from June 2016 that there was an issue in respect of wrongful convictions that had been obtained against persons in our district courts?”
Fitzgerald: “Thank you [to assistant]. Yes, at that point, in the letter, they did of course, because they also put some solutions in place in relation to what had happened to different individuals, it was clear that they were concerned that there would be a number but they had no idea, from my understanding that there were 14,700 at that point. But they were concerned that some people would have been taken to court, summoned to court who should not have been summoned to court. And that some solutions had been put in place. They were obviously linking with the DPP and all of the relevant bodies. But that a full audit needed to be done and the figure of 14,700 emerged at the press conference just last week.”
O’Callaghan: “Tanaiste, if you were aware in June 2016 that individuals had been wrongly convicted before our courts, you were Minister for Justice at that time. What did you do about it then?”
Fitzgerald: “At that point what was being done was that the full scale of this issue was being examined to see precisely what the implications of it were. I was aware that action had been taken so that no further such mistakes could be made and I was awaiting the results of the full audit and my department was in contact with An Garda Siochana on a regular basis to ensure we would get the full audit.”
O’Callaghan: “I just want to ask you another question and, before I ask you the other question, I want to just preface it by stating that, as Minister for Justice, you’ve been aware for nine months that there were wrongful convictions that took place before our district court, and, in my submission, you did nothing about it.”
“I want to now ask you about the issues in terms of breath test figures. We know that the Medical Bureau of Road Safety raised this discrepancy with An Garda Siochana in July 2014. We know that the gardai conducted a review in the southern region in 2015. We know that they extended it out to the whole country in 2016 and we know that in November 2016, they introduced a new IT system in order to overcome the problem. I want to ask you two questions. First of all, when did you become aware of these problems with the breath test figures and, secondly, are you satisfied with the fact that An Garda Siochana, to this date, have not been able to explain to the Irish people why it is that 937,000 breath tests were falsely recorded on the PULSE system.”
Fitzgerald: “I have put it on the public record that I received a letter in June 2016 outlining that some issues had arisen and actually they were examining what they needed to do and that they were doing a full audit, that it would be completed in the second quarter of this year. That was the information that I had. And my department continued to be in contact with the gardai…”