Belfast Telegraph

Fake breath tests not used by gardai to claim overtime, commissioner says

The Garda Commissioner has said bogus roadside breath tests were not used by officers to claim overtime.

Noirin O'Sullivan also told a parliamentary watchdog that she has no evidence that records of 400,000 mandatory alcohol testing (Mat) checkpoints on the roads are false.

In 23 pages of written replies to the Oireachtas Justice Committee on the gross exaggeration of drink-driving statistics and the wrongful prosecution of motorists for traffic offences, the Commissioner said there was no "co-ordinated effort or drive" to inflate activity from drink-driving crackdowns .

An audit has revealed almost one million fewer drink-driving breath tests were carried out from 2012 to 2016 than gardai had claimed.

The Garda also admitted that 146,000 people were taken to court and 14,700 people were wrongly convicted of motoring offences because of issues with the fixed penalty system.

Some of those had not paid fines but were prosecuted even though they had not received the fixed charge notice in the post, while others were taken to court even though they had received the penalty and paid it.

The Garda chief was asked to answer another 27 questions on the scandal after a lengthy hearing in Leinster House almost two weeks ago.

Ms O'Sullivan told the committee: "The results of breath-testing were neither used as a performance indicator nor justification for incurring overtime."

And with reviews of the controversy ongoing and no official explanation for the improper prosecutions and gross exaggeration of data, the Commissioner said there is no evidence "at this point in time" to suggest the records on mandatory drink-driving checkpoints are not accurate.

"An Garda Siochana has put considerable control mechanisms in place to ensure that Mat checkpoints are conducted and recorded correctly," she said.

Ms O'Sullivan told the committee that the checkpoints were primarily preventative but designed and located to improve safety and reduce road deaths.

The written responses to the committee also revealed "staff associations" were concerned about increased paperwork when a new order was issued last year on how records of checkpoints were to be kept.

The scandal, on the back of a catalogue of controversies to have dogged the force, not least the treatment of whistleblowers, prompted the Government to promise a special commission to review of management, training, recruitment, culture and oversight.

Meanwhile, t he committee was told internal auditors are reviewing Garda data on domestic violence and the classification of a number of homicides.

In the written responses, the Commissioner also said that an article in the Irish Times on anomalies in breath test figures did not influence the decision to contact the Medical Bureau of Road Safety about data it held on breathalyser use.

An anonymous letter from a Garda Reserve to the Road Safety Authority in April 2014, which was subsequently sent to the Department of Transport and then the Garda, was the catalyst for the initial sample review of breath tests figures in the Southern Region in 2015.

The Commissioner claimed that because the tip-off was made anonymously, "it was not possible, at that point in time, to identify if there was substance to any of the issues raised".

The Assistant Commissioner for the Western Region assessed the allegations about anomalies in the data in 2014 but shut down the inquiry in December of that year after he "was unable to progress the matter any further".

According to the Garda website, Donall O'Cualain took charge of the Western Region in July 2012.

Seven months lapsed between a final report on bogus breath test numbers in the Southern Region being completed in November 2015 and a nationwide audit being set up, the committee was told.

It would be another year before the public had any indication of an issue when a notice was posted on the Garda website warning about the data.

The issue was reported to the Commissioner's office in June last year, the committee was told.

An interim report on the issues - the scale of them and potential insight as to how and why they occurred - will be completed in a month and a final report will be sent to the Policing Authority by the end of June.

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