203. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he is taking to ensure that there will be accountability for the estimated two million fake breath tests; if he will publish the statistics of these tests for each district of An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53898/17]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy will be aware, I have previously put on record my deep concern at the serious failures of the Garda organisation in relation to mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints (MATs) and fixed charge notices.
In relation to the particular issue of whether disciplinary action should be taken against individual members of An Garda Síochána arising from the mandatory alcohol testing checkpoints issues, this is solely a matter for the Garda Commissioner to decide under the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 2007.
During the most recent public meeting with the Policing Authority on 23 November, the Commissioner apologised for the significant organisational failure and acknowledged the resulting public disquiet.
At this meeting, the Commissioner stated that, taking into consideration that the Policing Authority examination found that the discrepancy between the PULSE figures and the devices was likely to be significantly greater than the 1.458 million figure already identified by the Garda authorities, the scale of such an investigation, its associated costs and resourcing requirement were significant factors in deciding not to undertake individual disciplinary actions. Further consideration was also given to the inevitability of legal challenges to such action, the passage of time, and associated retirements, and poor data quality, which would all have additional delay, cost or other implications.
The Commissioner informed the Authority that the decision to take a future-focused, restorative approach allowed An Garda Síochána to focus on strategic reforms, changes to culture and embedding the Code of Ethics and performance management system, along with improving data quality.
The Commissioner also confirmed that he will be issuing a personal directive to all members stating that distortion of data quality and data breaches will amount to a serious disciplinary matter and could, at the most serious level, result in dismissal. In addition, the Commissioner indicated that he would be specifically and individually writing to each Divisional manager to highlight their responsibilities in relation to supervision and accountability.
The Government established the Policing Authority to ensure oversight of policing practices, shed light on problems and identify solutions through its structured engagement with An Garda Síochána. I would draw the Deputy's attention to the Policing Authority's commentary on the Crowe Horwath report, where the Authority, in relation to this point, stated that "poor performance on a pervasive scale can seldom be appropriately addressed by disciplinary processes". The Authority further commented that the focus should be on implementing a meaningful performance management system for both Garda members and civilians in 2018, so that there is a framework for the delivery of policing plans and ensuring accountability.
The Authority went on to indicate that, unless there is prima facie evidence of either a criminal offence or a disciplinary breach having been committed, the core focus for An Garda Síochána should now be on rectifying the issues identified permanently across all dimensions, including procedures, technology, training, supervision and accountability. I fully expect the Commissioner to urgently address the issues highlighted by myself, by Crowe Horwath and by the Policing Authority and I welcome the continuing oversight of the Policing Authority in this respect. This Government has put in place significant Garda resources, both human and financial, but, as the Policing Authority has emphasised, cultural change within An Garda Síochána is of critical importance. This is why one of the Policing Authority’s first acts was to introduce a Garda Code of Ethics. Adherence to that code must become a fundamental part of our policing. I previously made clear to Commissioner Ó Cualáin that Garda management must ensure that all members are committed to the values the Code sets out. I am confident that he and his colleagues understand the importance of ensuring that cultural change goes hand in hand with systemic improvements. The Policing Authority has a critical role to play in supporting and overseeing this process. Moreover, it is important to remember that the expert Commission on the Future of Policing is undertaking a significant root and branch analysis of policing in Ireland. I have no doubt that this report will inform the Commission's work to bring about the transformation of policing in this country. However, I fully acknowledge the vital work undertaken everyday by the women and men of An Garda Síochána to ensure the safety and security of the people of Ireland. I remain dedicated to doing everything in my power as Minister, in conjunction with the Policing Authority, to ensure ethical and excellent policing, robust oversight and the modernisation of An Garda Síochána to ensure it can operate effectively and professionally in the public interest.
Finally, I would draw the Deputy's attention to page 33 of Crowe Horwath's report, which contains a table, outlining the regional and divisional discrepancies in breath test data across An Garda Síochána during the period June 2009 to April 2017. Statistical information is also available in An Garda Síochána's internal examination into the recording of breath tests at MATs, published in September this year (Pages 52-55 refer).