From left: Denis A Cusack, Director, Medical Bureau of Road Safety, Chief Superintendent Aidan Reid,, Ms Moyagh Murdock, Chief Executive, Road Safety Authority, Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Maggie Martin, Research Manager, Road Safety Authority, outside Store Street Garda Station in Dublin as they launched a Road Safety Authority (RSA) and An Garda Síochana drink drive safety campaign last Summer.
Top: Figures showing significant discrepancies between the number of breath tests recorded by PULSE and the number of tests recorded by the actual devices; Director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety Professor Denis Cusack on Morning Ireland
On Morning Ireland.
Professor Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety (above), spoke to RTÉ’s Cathal Mac Coille about the near one million breath tests that gardaí recorded they took between November 1, 2011 and October 31, 2016, but conceded last week they didn’t take.
Professor Cusack explained the MBRS’s role in supplying breath tests to An Garda Síochána and outlined the timeline of events from when the MBRS first became aware of concerns about breath tests, in July 2014, up to An Garda Síochána requesting the MBRS’s database on March 8, 2017.
Readers will note how An Garda Siochana have already said that on April 11, 2014, the then Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar wrote to the Garda Commissioner [Noirin O’Sullivan] about information that was sent anonymously to chairman of the Road Safety Authority Gay Byrne.
The information contained allegations in relation to the manner in which Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT) checkpoints were being performed in the west of Ireland.
Mr Varadkar passed this information on to Ms O’Sullivan but, almost a year later, on January 8, 2015, a report issued by the gardaí to the Department of Justice and Equality found it was not possible to identify the author of the information sent to Mr Byrne and so it was not possible to progress the matter.
Further to this…
Denis Cusack: “We’re responsible for approving, in other words, checking out that the device is fit for purpose. We’re also responsible for testing it from time to time which we do every six months, every single device in the country. And we also supply the device, the breathalyser to the gardai. And we’ve about 1,200 that we supply to garda stations nationwide.”
Cathall Mac Coille: “Just to be clear about this, because you’ve got a breathalyser in front of you and I know you’re going to explain to us what you do with it: you check out and approve and issue every single one, not batches?”
Cusack: “Well, what happens is the board of the bureau is presented with a report, whenever there’s a new device so, for example, shortly we’ll again be going through a process for the roadside and Garda station drug testing device. So, a report is drawn up, this is called the Drager Alcotest 6510. So, after a competitive process, a number of manufacturers will have put in their devices, we’d look, which is the most suitable, all of that specification is then given to the board which says, ‘yes, we approve this device’ and that is what is meant by approval. And then each device is approved by that process, not individually but we test each and every single device every six months to make sure that it’s still doing what it’s meant to do. And indeed, if there’s ever a problem in between times, the garda will bring it to the bureau.”
Mac Coille: “And the device you have in front of you there, has it a specific number on it? Issued by you?”
Cusack: “Yes, each device is Garda station specific so we know that, when a device is brought in and…each device is Garda station specific so when it’s returned, every six months or so, and if it’s not returned we follow up and remind the gardai that they’re meant to return it because we need to test it to make sure that it’s still well within what it should be doing.”
Mac Coille: “And each device can be used how many times?”
Cusack: “Oh, limitless. And that’s how we know. I’m pressing a button now [holds it up to microphone] and, in a moment, it’s going to tell me how many tests have been carried out on this device, I tested it myself again last night at home, so it comes up with a number. So let’s say, for example, a garda has a device at a Garda station, he’s going out to one of the checkpoints, it’ll say test number, let’s say 200, and if the garda returns later that evening and it says 220, the guard knows that 20 tests have been carried out. And the protocol that we’ve recommended is that it be noted and the number of tests done. And then, every six months, when it comes back to us, if, for example, we have that device at 200 today and it comes back in six months time to us with 500, we know that 300 tests have been done and we confirm that with the Garda and that’s how we’re able to do that.”
Mac Coille: “When did you first raise the question of the number of tests being carried out? And the number of devices being used with the gardaí?”
Cusack: “There’s been a lot of discussion about this. We need to be very clear. In summer 2014, as part of our process, we have to buy the mouthpieces and I have one here with me that you see there, each one is individual in terms of its packing. It’s to make sure that it’s not contaminated with alcohol and, indeed, nobody wants to put in their mouth something that’s been used by two or three drivers beforehand. So, each breath test, has one mouth piece.”
Mac Coille: “Wrapped in plastic.”
Cusack: “Wrapped in plastic. It’s sealed there, I’ve opened one there and another is sealed. So we buy them every year, we’re buying between 400,000 and 600,000, it costs anywhere between €80,000 and €120,000. We became aware that there appeared to still be a large number…”
Mac Coille: “What do you mean? How did you become aware of it?”
Cusack: “A large number..well, we liaise very closely with the Garda stock keeping, central stock, in Santry. So they ask us, from time to time, and we became aware that there wasn’t a request in and, clearly, on the Garda website, we noted that there were more than, between 400,000 and 450,000.”
Mac Coille: “What?”
Cusack: “Breath tests on the website there.”
Mac Coille: “Carried out?”
Cusack: “Carried out.”
Mac Coille: “In that year? 2014?”
Cusack: “No, over the last year, two previously.”
Mac Coille: “Ok.
Cusack: “So it was very simple. We said, ‘look, you know, the numbers just don’t add up, we need clarification because if those numbers being done, clearly we wouldn’t have expected that there would have been that number of mouthpieces left. So for the purpose, first of all, of actually purchasing them, we had to look at it.”
Mac Coille: “So you wrote to them?”
Cusack: “We wrote to the gardai…”
Mac Coille: “Can you put a date on it?”
Cusack: “Yes, it was in July 2014. I must be very clear. We didn’t know what we were dealing with at the time except that the numbers didn’t add up.”
Mac Coille: “We should mention by the way, just to get the timeline straight, this is after Noirin O’Sullivan has taken over as provisional Garda Commissioner. Later that year she became, she was confirmed as the Commissioner. She was in charge. So in July 2014, you wrote to them and said, was it a question?”
Cusack: “No, it was simply, could you set out, and we, for the equipment. Now usually we didn’t write, we would be able to do this by just our meetings, we’ve very regular meetings with the gardai to make sure that we’re helping them and supplying them with these. So all it was was an alert that something wasn’t adding up. And, some months later, we got a reply to say they weren’t seeking any more but we didn’t order any more mouthpieces for 2015 or 2016. And we keep in close consultation with the gardai. So that’s where it lay until about 2015…”
Mac Coille: “But at that stage, just to be clear. In either 2014 or 2015, did you ask them the question: you appear to be carrying out or, at least according to your records, carrying out more breath tests than you’re using these mouthpieces. Did you ask that question?”
Cusack: “That would have come up in the discussions at the meeting but it…”
Mac Coille: “In 2014?”
Cusack: “In 2014/2015 but I must be very clear: the gardai wouldn’t have known themselves it appears because we didn’t learn of the figures until last Thursday and I’ll come to that in a moment…”
Mac Coille: “But you knew enough in 2014 to ask the question, correct?”
Cusack: “Well, simply, we said: the numbers don’t add up. And it was in the context of the number of mouthpieces we should be purchasing.”
Mac Coille: “Did you have a meeting with them?”
Cusack: “We have regular meetings with..”
Mac Coille: “So you would have met them subsequent to this letter in July 2014. Did you have a meeting with them that year to discuss this?”
Cusack: “Well simply they said we didn’t need any more mouthpieces. So we don’t in any way become involved in in Garda operation matters. We take that at face value.”
Mac Coille: “So you left that there in 2014. In 2015?”
Cusack: “2015, in fact it was on foot of a newspaper article where questions were raised about the numbers of tests. So at that point, I asked the staff, our senior staff, could they actually look at this because clearly the numbers were still not adding up. So, in August 2015 we actually carried out a survey of 200 of the 1,200 devices and what we found at that time was, on the estimation of the average use and so on, for those 200 devices that it appeared that there were not 400,000-plus tests being done on our devices but rather closer to 200,000.”
Mac Coille: “When did you tell the gardai about this?”
Cusack: “We told the gardai, and again it had to be in the sense that we were quite surprised, obviously that there was such a difference so we alerted the gardai…”
Mac Coille: “When?”
Cusack: “In the end of summer 2015.”
Mac Coille: “Can you put a month on it?”
Cusack: “It was August to September 2015.”
Mac Coille: “And, by the way, your communications with the Gardai are to whom, are they to the Commissioner or what level?”
Cusack: “We meet with members of what was then the garda traffic bureau but again you must remember…”
Mac Coille: “That’s headed by or was it headed at the time by Garda, Assistant Commissioner John Twomey?
Cusack: “Yes and…”
Mac Coille: “So it was to him?”
Cusack: “Well it was to his staff and my staff would have met his staff about that. So it was an alert and, again, nobody knew what they were dealing with at that stage except that there was a discrepancy.”
Mac Coille: “Of 400,000 reported tests but only 200,000, according to …”
Cusack: “And that was the first time we had firm, solid information. So we alerted the gardai and, in fairness to the gardai, they reacted and they said they were going to carry out an audit. They carried out the audit, as I understand it and it’s a matter for the gardai to give the details in 2015 and 2016. And then earlier this year, after the gardai had completed their audit, they then asked us in March if we could share our database information about the devices with them and we’re very happy to do so, to help them in any way and then when they compared their audit with our numbers, they come up with the answer which, again, we didn’t know about until last week and coincidentally, or perhaps it was both good and bad news, it corresponded quite closely to what we had found in 2015 – that there did appear to be twice the number recorded by the gardai as our devices indicated.”
Mac Coille: “And we find that out nearly three years after you first raised this.”
Listen back in full here
Pic: An Garda Siochana