Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Penalty points row to be probed

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said a call for an independent investigation was a 'good suggestion'

A Garda watchdog will launch an investigation into the quashing of penalty points by officers within the force in the coming days.

The Garda Inspectorate said it is awaiting final details from the Department of Justice which will determine the shape and scope of its inquiry. However, the Garda Ombudsman will not be opening a separate probe into the controversy.

The Ombudsman and the Inspectorate have different roles in overseeing the force. The Garda Ombudsman generally investigates allegations against particular officers, while the Garda Inspectorate scrutinises wider overall practices and policing within the force.

The Inspectorate does not have the power to investigate alleged wrongdoing by individual members, but can interview officers of any rank as part of its probe.

Eimear Fisher, senior investigator with the Garda Inspectorate, said until they see the terms of reference they cannot predict how long the inquiry will take. "But because this is important we will obviously try to carry it out as quickly as possible," she said.

Once finished, the Garda Inspectorate will hand over its report and recommendations to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who decides whether to make it public.

The Garda Ombudsman has not received any complaint over the penalty points row, and does not expect to probe the allegations.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said a call from the Road Safety Authority for an independent investigation was a "good suggestion", but added he was unsure whether the Garda Ombudsman had the authority. "I think it's very important the public does have confidence in the penalty points system," he said.

"The laws needs to be enforced and it needs to be enforced in the same way with everyone. If there is discretion, discretion should apply equally to everyone. There is a sense among the public that is not the case."

A Garda Ombudsman spokesman said the allegations of widespread wiping of penalty points were currently outside its remit because they were originally made through the force's internal whistleblower handler. The Ombudsman said it was appropriate to allow the Inspectorate to carry out its investigation and that it would continue to monitor developments in the case.

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