The Garda watchdog has published its report into allegations by whistleblower Maurice McCabe
Sinn Féin has warned that the decision not to pursue any criminal or disciplinary proceedings against gardaí over the ‘improper’ cancellation of penalty sends out a “bad message.”
It comes as a report from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) supported allegations by Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe that penalty points were 'improperly cancelled.'
The commission met with Sergeant McCabe five times during this investigation, and looked at the overall system rather than each individual allegation.
Investigators examined data relating to the issuing of 1.6 million fixed charge notices (FCNs) and 74,373 cancellations between 2009 and 2012.
They found that the penalty points system was widely being abused by gardaí with too many officers - 442 over four years - authorised to cancel points.
72% of cancelled FCNs were recorded with 'insufficient rationale for cancellation', while credentials of retired senior gardaí were also used to authorise cancellations.
GSOC also notes: "Cancellations were carried out by superintendents and inspectors for FCNs outside their geographical area, contrary to policy – one officer cancelled 744 FCNs across 17 counties."
Despite the findings, GSOC says it will not proceed to another stage of investigation as a result of both the high costs of any further investigation and the 'extensive reform' of the penalty system in recent years.
The commission says that the benefits of a second phase - which would involve "investigating specific cancellations instances with a view to identifying possible behaviour of a criminal nature or constituting a breach of discipline" - would likely be outweighed by the 'considerable cost to the public'.
However, Sinn Fein's Justice Spokesperson Donnchadh O Laoghaire warned that the decision does not send out the right message:
“I think that is a mistake,” he said. “Obviously when it is that widespread and the scale is so significant, it is not possible to pursue every instance.”
“But I think they must identify the most flagrant breaches and the most serious breaches and I think that should be pursued.
“I think it would send a bad message to simply draw a line under this and move on.”
He said the report highlights that the garda malpractice was "very widespread."
"The scale of it is very significant and it is quite shocking to read that a single garda could be responsible for cancelling over 700 fixed charge penalty notices,” he said.
“So the scale of this indicates that it was clearly systemic.”
According to GSOC, its investigation has confirmed information provided by Sgt McCabe that 'improper cancellations' were carried out.
GSOC has told the Acting Garda Commissioner: "While we are ending this investigation, our interest in road safety and public confidence in garda behaviour in this area means we will keep complaints of infringements of this nature to the forefront with the hope that such complaints will become infrequent as better internal oversight deals with the legacy of poor practices in the past."