Fianna Fáil calls for greater Policing Authority powers

Fianna Fáil has announced that it remains unable to express confidence in the Garda commissioner

Fianna Fáil calls for greater Policing Authority powers

File photo: Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan on the Dáil plinth, 07-03-2017. Image: Leah Farrell

Fianna Fáil is set to publish legislation aimed at giving more powers to the Policing Authority.

The party has also confirmed that it remains unable to express confidence in the Garda Commissioner following her appearance before the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

During a four-hour hearing this morning, Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan told the assembled politicians that she was yet to establish whether breath testing data had been recorded by Gardaí dishonestly or as a result of an error.

She was called before the committee after officials discovered major discrepancies in the force’s roadside breath testing figures – with almost one million tests recorded that never occurred.

Separately it emerged that thousands of court summonses were issued for offences that should have been dealt with by way of fixed penalty notice.

The mistake may have led to thousands of wrongful District Court convictions, with the force now facing the prospect of having to get those decisions overturned - and any associated fines repaid.

This afternoon the commissioner told the committee that while senior gardaí are investigating the debacle, they have yet to establish how the errors occurred.

She said she has no specific information to suggest the falsification extends outside of roads policing and deeper into the force – but warned she does not know “what's coming down the tracks.”

Extended Policing Authority powers

In a statement this evening Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on justice, Jim O’Callaghan said he has written to the Tánaiste and the chair of the Policing Authority to seek “further information on a number of issues” adding that his party is now considering how to proceed.

“In the meantime however, I believe it important to move decisively to try and shore up confidence in the processes and procedures around Garda oversight,” he said. “With that in mind I am publishing a new Bill aimed at expanding and strengthening the powers available to the Policing Authority.”

He called for cross-party support for the bill – which includes a number of measures recommended by a recent Oireachtas report on garda oversight.

If passed, the bill would empower the Policing Authority to supervise the functioning of the Garda Commissioner's office and require the commissioner to inform the authority of any internal audit within An Garda Síochána.

It would also give the authority the power to make unannounced inspections at any Garda Síochána station or premises.

The Authority would be given power to oversee general garda performance and establish policies and procedures that would be binding on all members.

It would also be expected to review the adequacy of garda policy and procedure.

Upholding the rule of law

“We are all committed to a Garda Siochána that is active, visible and effective in communities nationwide and oversight is crucial to achieving this,” said Deputy O’Callaghan. “There is no more important or fundamental role for the state than the protection of its citizens.”

“The people depend on the Garda Siochána to feel safe in their communities and to uphold the rule of law.

“That is why it is so important for us to hold the force to account and ensure we achieve and maintain the highest possible standards.”