Clare Senator Martin Conway had some very succinct questions to put to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan when she appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality recently. The committee met to consider recent controversies concerning the Gardaí including fixed charge notices and 14,700 wrongful convictions resulting from Garda error, and data revealing that 937,000 breath tests were falsely recorded on the PULSE system.
Senator Conway opened his contribution by acknowledging “the good work that is being done by An Garda Síochána and the thousands of men and women who risk their lives for us on a daily basis.”
Commenting on false recording of breath tests on the PULSE system, the Senator noted that the Commissioner has announced an internal audit. He asked whether she did not think that the issue was serious enough to bring in an outside body to conduct the audit? Commissioner O’Sullivan said she had considered this but decided on an internal audit following advice from the Garda’s own audit committee to check the methodology and processes used.
Senator Conway commented, “The inflated figures were inputted by members of An Garda Síochána, whether it was for reasons relating to promotion, financial reasons or whatever. My concern is that, as part of their job, they have given evidence in court and people have been convicted on the basis of their evidence. There are people in jail as a result of the evidence given by individuals who inflated figures relating to breath testing.
“To bring this to its logical conclusion, if they were prepared to input figures on paper or into a computer that were incorrect, they could have given evidence in court that is incorrect and, potentially, people have been convicted of crimes and are serving sentences on the word of these members, which has to be questioned. Is that a fair, logical conclusion?”
Commissioner O’Sullivan rejected this scenario but did accept that the inflated figures were “administratively sloppy”. Senator Conway was not satisfied with that response and expanded on his theory, “If somebody is prepared to falsify information at a lower level, then they are capable of falsifying information at a more senior level and for more serious offences. This is extremely serious as well but if they are prepared and happy to be sloppy in the recording of information, it is possible that they will be sloppy in giving evidence in court.”
He also called on the Garda Commissioner to “give us a heads up regarding other issues of serious concern that she has identified or that she suspects are there.” In response Commissioner O’Sullivan replied that she has no specific information at this point about anything else.
In concluding his contribution, Senator Conway said, “It does not give me any pleasure to say this, but at this stage the dogs in the street do not have confidence in the senior management of An Garda Síochána. “I do not know how it is going to repair that. At what point would the witness consider her position and those of her senior management team to become untenable in terms of the future of the force?” Commissioner O’Sullivan skilfully avoided answering the question directly.