herald

Sunday 23 April 2017

Tanaiste 'did nothing for 9 months' about scandal, claims FF

Garda chief Noirin O’Sullivan. Collins Photos
Garda chief Noirin O’Sullivan. Collins Photos

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has been aware of the garda breath-test scandal for nine months but "did nothing", Fianna Fail has claimed.

Ms Fitzgerald, the Justice Minister, was last night strongly criticised over her response to the latest controversy that has rocked the force.

The Government has been left reeling after it emerged one-million breath tests were falsified, leading to 14,700 wrongful convictions.

During a tumultuous day, ministers reaffirmed their confidence in under-fire Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan - but Fianna Fail said it did not have confidence in the garda chief, who is set to appear in front of the Oireachtas Justice Committee tomorrow to answer further questions.

Complaint

Last night, the Policing Authority criticised garda management for not providing a "clear sense" of how problems arose with breath-testing data and wrongful prosecutions "despite questioning over several months".

The Government's knowledge of the scandal was also probed by TDs last night.

Ms Fitzgerald told the Dail that an anonymous complaint was made to the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in 2014 in relation to checkpoints.

Yet it was not until June of last year that her department was notified of "discrepancies" following a garda audit.

Ms Fitzgerald said she did not know the exact numbers of the false breath tests until a garda press conference last week.

However, Fianna Fail's Jim O'Callaghan expressed shock at the revelation that she was first notified something was wrong in June 2016.

"You knew for nine months about this and did nothing," he said. Dublin TD Tommy Broughan said Ms Fitzgerald has provided misleading information to the Dail and should therefore consider her position.

The Tanaiste rejected the claims but other TDs rounded on the commissioner and called for her to step down.

Earlier, the Cabinet agreed to a "root-and-branch review" of An Garda Siochana. Ministers agreed to establish an independent study of the force in a bid to overhaul culture problems that led to the phantom breath tests being recorded.

The Cabinet agreed to maintain its confidence in Ms O'Sullivan but wants an external probe of both the breath-test controversy and a separate scandal that saw 14,700 wrongful convictions.

Essential

"It's a matter of grave importance to our country that the Government, the Oireachtas and members of the public have faith and trust in members of An Garda Siochana to carry out their jobs fairly and impartially," Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dail.

He said it is "absolutely essential" that a process of reform is implemented. The Government will meet next week to devise a format for the independent review of the force.

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