30. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the actions An Garda Síochána is taking to improve the workings of the fixed charge notice system and the recording of breathalyser tests; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15664/17]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I would like to emphasise at the outset that I have met with the Garda Commissioner and the Chairperson of the Policing Authority in the past days and have communicated my very serious concerns in relation to the significant road traffic enforcement errors that have come to light following the completion of extensive internal audits by An Garda Síochána.
The Deputy will be aware that An Garda Síochána has confirmed that it has put solutions in place to deal with the procedural and practice issues that have been detected to ensure that such errors do not recur. Specifically, I have been assured by An Garda Síochána that a permanent and comprehensive IT solution is now in place to cover the majority of FCPS issues identified and An Garda Síochána is satisfied that the errors that occurred cannot be repeated. In the case of breath tests/Mandatory Alcohol Testing, I am informed that 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. Data from the device is now used to verify the total number of breath tests conducted at each checkpoint.
Insofar as the 14,700 people convicted of road traffic offences in court following the incorrect issuing of a summons are concerned, An Garda Síochána has established a dedicated support helpline for members of the public with queries in relation to their case. An Garda Síochána is also writing to all affected members of the public, explaining what has happened and outlining the solution to rectify the situation. An Garda Síochána has indicated that it has been advised by the Director of Public Prosecutions and Courts Service that these 14,700 cases must be brought back before the Courts at Circuit Court level with a view to requesting that the erroneous convictions can be set aside. An Garda Síochána has established a dedicated team to this end and is liaising with the Court Services to expedite this process. As such, members of the public affected by the road traffic enforcement errors referred to are requested to await the aforementioned correspondence from An Garda Síochána which will provide further clarification on the matter.
The Deputy will be aware that the Garda Commissioner has:
- 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 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.
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:
- have an independent professional audit undertaken of the steps taken to resolve the issues;and
- oversee the investigation being undertaken by Assistant Commissioner O’Sullivan.
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.
I will continue to maintain close contact with the Garda Commissioner and the Chairperson of the Policing Authority in relation to these matters.