20. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she is satisfied that Garda senior management is still capable of performing its duties to the highest standard following the revelation that 14,700 persons were convicted in the courts without a fixed charge notice first being issued and that the number of drink driving tests carried out was exaggerated by over 937,000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15698/17]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I have been very clear in expressing my very serious concerns over the past week in relation to the extent of the road traffic enforcement issues highlighted by An Garda Síochána and the significant numbers of errors involved, not to mention the considerable number of individuals who are affected by these errors.
As we have seen from the figures released over the past week by An Garda Síochána, considerable numbers of the general public have interacted with and will continue to interact with An Garda Síochána in the context of road traffic enforcement, whether at a Mandatory Alcohol Testing checkpoint, or via the Fixed Charge Processing System. As such, it is critical that there is public confidence in the operation and oversight of these vital enforcement systems.
I acknowledge the extensive audits that An Garda Síochána has carried out since these issues came to their attention and the fact that solutions are now in place and are being closely monitored at the highest levels within the organisation.
The Garda Commissioner has given me her personal commitment that all necessary steps will be taken to ensure that these errors cannot reoccur.
The Deputy will be aware that in addition to outlining the issues, how they had come to light, and the remedial steps taken so far, at her press conference on 27 March 2017, the Commissioner:
- announced the restructuring of traffic policing with the creation of a new Roads Policing Unit to be led by Assistant Commissioner Mick Finn;
- announced the creation of a dedicated team under newly-appointed Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan to investigate in detail the MATs issue, including with a view to identifying and holding responsible for their actions any Garda members, whether at junior, supervisory or management level, who acted improperly; and
- committed to forwarding the report of this investigation to the Policing Authority and Department of Justice and Equality when completed.
Assistant Commissioner Finn outlined new arrangements agreed this week with the Medical Bureau on Roads Safety to the effect that body would supply An Garda Síochána with its data on breath-testing devices on a quarterly basis, in order to ensure an independent benchmark against which Garda data can be measured. The MBRS will shortly be tendering for new breath testing equipment. New equipment which is available in the market place has the capacity to record the time, GPS location and number of persons breath-tested, and has the capacity to download the information automatically reducing the chances of errors occurring in the data.
Notwithstanding any internal review the Government believes that an external investigation into these two specific matters needs be carried out.
The Government believes the level of public concern is now so profound that it may now be time to conduct a thorough, comprehensive and independent root-and-branch review of An Garda Síochána. That is clearly a proposal that will require further detailed consideration by the Government.
The Government also believes that 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.
I have also met with the Chairperson of the Policing Authority in recent days in relation to these road traffic enforcement issues and I welcome the fact that the focus of the Authority's next public meeting with the Garda Commissioner will be on road traffic enforcement. This public meeting will be held on 27 April 2017 and will provide a most timely opportunity for An Garda Síochána to engage with the Authority and the general public on these key procedural and practice issues that are now before us. The reason that I prioritised and set up the Authority was to shine a light on and examine issues such as these.
The Garda Commissioner has been in direct contact with the Policing Authority in relation to the matters referred to in the Deputy's question and the Chairperson of the Policing Authority, Josephine Feehily, has confirmed that the Authority will carefully examine these issues.
I have emphasised to the Garda Commissioner that these practices that allowed breath test misreporting and FCN errors to happen within An Garda Síochána over many years have impacted negatively on public confidence and the new systems that have been established in response must be robust in order that public confidence can begin to be rebuilt.
I am confident that senior management in An Garda Síochána is taking all necessary steps insofar as these critical matters are concerned and I will continue to maintain close contact with the Garda Commissioner and the Chairperson of the Policing Authority in relation to these matters.