Other Questions

Penalty Points System

Joan Collins

Question:

6. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality noting (details supplied), further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 96,104, 68 and 58 of 11 December 2012, that his replies are at variance with this information, if he will explain for each case noted, if the driver of the vehicle contacted the Garda requesting termination of the fixed charge penalty; the person who instructed the termination; the grounds for each termination and the rank of the garda who terminated the penalty. [6010/13]

Mick Wallace

Question:

36. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he considered exercising his powers under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2007, to order an inquiry into the practice of terminating fixed charge notices by the Ombudsman under section 102 in which he is entitled to do so if he considers it in the public interest or to order a special inquiry by specially appointed persons under section 42, where he is entitled to do so if he considers the matter to be one of public concern; the reason he chose to internally review this matter; if he will provide an update on the progress of the internal review by the Garda Commissioner; if he will commit to publishing the internal review in its entirety; if he will order an inquiry by the Ombudsman or a special inquiry by a specially appointed person into the practice of terminating fixed charge notices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6017/13]

Joan Collins

Question:

58. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide details of the revenue forgone by termination of penalty points for all fixed charge penalties during the period 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2011. [6011/13]

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Question:

60. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will publish the internal Garda report he has commissioned on allegations of widespread ticket fixing by some members of An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6014/13]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

64. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has received the final report from An Garda Síochána on the alleged quashing of certain penalty points; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5659/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 36, 58, 60 and 64 together.

These questions all relate to the issue we have previously discussed surrounding the allegations concerning the cancellation of fixed charge notices. Fixed charge notices are provided for under the Road Traffic Act 2002 and are an alternative to prosecution. They give a motorist the opportunity to acknowledge the offence, pay the fixed charge and, where the offence is a penalty point offence, incur the appropriate penalty points. While the issuing of a fixed charge notice does not constitute commencement of legal proceedings, it normally leads to a prosecution if the fixed charge is not paid.

There can be circumstances, however, where the fixed charge notice may be cancelled in accordance with Garda procedures drawn up in the light of legislative exemptions and prosecutorial guidelines. Cancellation occurs where it is believed the evidence would not sustain a prosecution or a prosecution would not be appropriate, fair or proportionate. The procedures provide authority to district officers, or inspectors acting as district officers, and an inspector in the fixed charge processing office to cancel fixed charge notices.

Cancellation can occur in circumstances where, for example, exemptions apply in relation to emergency vehicles or the wearing of seat belts, or where there are evidential difficulties, such as where the registration number registered by a speed camera does not correspond to the vehicle in question, or where there are emergency medical circumstances such as, for example, a sick child being driven to hospital, an imminent birth, or a medical professional rushing to a sick or elderly patient. Access to cancel a fixed charge notice through PULSE is restricted to users with the rank of inspector or higher.

Allegations concerning the cancellation of fixed charge notices are being examined by an assistant commissioner who is due to report his findings shortly. I have received an interim report from the commissioner but I will not be making any further comment on any of the allegations until the final report is available. It would be premature and wrong to assume that all of these cancellations of fixed charge notices were inappropriate, or that money has been lost to the Exchequer as a consequence. Equally, it is premature for calls to be made for a statutory inquiry into these matters.

As I said earlier, let us await the final report on this matter, which I expect shortly, and we will then be in a position to draw conclusions.

Four Deputies have tabled these questions so I will call them first, starting with Deputy Joan Collins.

The Minister did not really answer my question, which is very specific. It gave five different instances of two people who have been mentioned in this House before - Mary Devins and Séamus Hughes.

There is a long-standing ruling of the Ceann Comhairle that people outside the House are not named in the Chamber. I ask Deputies to bear that in mind, please.

It gives five different instances. In two, no reason was given for the termination, while in one, the termination is discretionary-other. In another instance, it was termination on humanitarian grounds, while in another case the termination was discretionary-other and humanitarian grounds entered into it. This is at variance to the Minister's response to Deputy Wallace a moment ago and completely discredits what he has said. We want to find out who gave the order and why. It is of concern to everybody, including the Garda. If the penalty points system is too open it is not right either for the public or the gardaí concerned. The Minister said there has to be transparency and accountability but he has not responded to my questions. I detailed five situations, yet no reason has been given for the terminations.

I deplore the fact that it appears to be part of the approach taken by some Members of this House to constantly name individuals who have no opportunity to defend themselves and are not Members of this House. By doing so, it implies that they may have done something wrong. I am not going to get sucked into that process whereby examples are given with regard to particular named individuals.

That is not why I raised this.

Each of the cases that have been contained in allegations, whether individuals are named or anonymised, is being addressed by the assistant commissioner. There will be a detailed response following on from the completion of that investigation in which all of these issues will be addressed.

I again ask the Minister to set out the specific legislation within which members of the force exercise discretion for the termination of fixed charge notices. What legislation permits a senior officer to terminate more than 1,000 fixed charge notices, most of which came from outside of his district? This is unfair to the many honest gardaí who work really hard and whose profession is being tarnished. The conclusions reached by any internal review conducted in private cannot retain public trust and confidence because of the manner in which they were reached.

The first point I will make to the Deputy is there should be public trust and confidence because the number of fixed charge notices served in any one year is enormous and the numbers in question here are small. Nevertheless and to be clear, if there is wrongdoing, that should be transparent, should be addressed and will be dealt with. However, yet again I must ask the Deputy not to jump to conclusions. The Deputy keeps referring to a member of the force who has cancelled 1,000 fixed charge notices. While I do not wish to get into the detail and have now given the same reply twice, the Deputy might note that an inspector in the fixed charge processing office has the jurisdiction and legal authority to cancel fixed charge notices. Most-----

It is not him.

It was not him.

I am simply telling the Deputies this.

We know that.

I do not intend to get into the issue of individuals. What I intend to do is to wait to receive the report that I expect. If the Deputies opposite could contain themselves for another three to four weeks-----

I have not named him either.

If the Deputies could contain themselves for another three to four weeks, I expect this investigation to be concluded. I expect to be in a position to publish in full the outcome of that investigation and I expect that if any remaining questions are not answered, that would be something I will pursue.

I call Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.

What is the specific legislation? The Minister still has not told Members. This is crazy.

For justice and for policing to work, people must be fully assured that everyone is treated equally. These revelations in respect of penalty points clearly show that in Ireland, some people are more important than others and this brings the Garda Síochána into disrepute. This is not because the vast majority of gardaí are corrupt; on the contrary, the vast majority are as straight as a pin. However, until one has in place a system that proves and guarantees it is fair for everyone, unfortunately everyone is under suspicion. It is somewhat akin to a scenario in which one entered a shop, bought oneself five or six apples and put them on the weighing scales only to realises it did not add up. What should happen is one should be able to have that checked independently. At present, however, were this to take place within the realm of the Garda Síochána, the manager of the shop would check to ascertain whether the scales were all right and one would be obliged to accept his or her word. This is not good for justice and unfortunately, having delved into this area, I have discovered this appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. The reason it has not emerged before now is that, as I have been told many times over the past week, people are scared to come out and tell the truth.

It is shocking to think that people are scared to tell the truth about justice and the law in this country. I will conclude by citing a comment made by one of the Minister's own Deputies from Fine Gael, namely, Deputy Michael Creed. The issue to which he referred goes even higher and is far more serious than penalty points, as it pertains to murder. As a member of the public and as a parent, I would like to believe that were a murder to be committed in this country, it would be properly investigated. However, I will quote the words of Deputy Creed when speaking about the Fr. Niall Molloy case. Incidentally, Fr. Molloy was Roscommon man of the year and was someone of whom we were very proud. Deputy Michael Creed referred to "the cover-up of that murder". The Minister should listen again to the words of his own Deputy, "that the cover-up of that murder was aided and abetted by an omertà-style collusion between the most powerful forces in the State - the senior political establishment, the Judiciary, the Catholic Church, senior medical personnel and the Garda".

If the Minister seeks to improve things and to make this a better country, openness and accountability are needed. In this context, I understand that a member of the Minister's party, who was meant to debate an issue with me in UCG in three weeks has now pulled out of that debate unless I apologise for talking about corruption.

Deputy, sorry-----

People are seeking an apology for the Magdalen laundries.

No, Deputy, please. I wish to ask-----

There is one thing better than an apology, which is to make sure that corruption does not happen in the first place.

I call on the Minister to respond.

I am afraid the sight of the Deputy in full flight standing on a moral soapbox makes it a little difficult not to throw up. I agree with something the Deputy has just stated, which is that for justice to work, people must be assured that everyone should be treated equally. I have just listened to the Deputy's little diatribe. This was from a Member of this House who encourages people outside this House to engage in illegality. This was from a Member of this House who believes it is appropriate that 70% to 75% of people pay their property tax but is happy to encourage others not so do. This was from a Member of this House who has encouraged people to violate a law and to create difficulties for the State in a European context. This was from a Deputy who boasts of his drug-taking. This was from a Deputy who has been convicted before the courts.

I merely tried to-----

If the Deputy intends to morally lecture the rest of us, he should be aware the soapbox on which he is standing is resting on quicksand that is rapidly disappearing under him.

Does the Minister have a box set of his lectures? I would like to listen to them all.

Deputy Clare Daly has a question.

The Minister is doing his best to ignore the seriousness of this issue. However, I must warn him that it will not go away. He has stated that Members are prejudging the outcome of his internal investigation. That investigation is already substantially discredited. While the Garda Commissioner to whom the Minister referred, Commissioner Callinan, issued a press statement in December in which he told the assembled media there was no question of what has been described as a culture of non-enforcement of penalties being tolerated, in fact that is precisely the culture to which reference has been made. The Minister took it upon himself to send a letter from his Department to the whistleblowing gardaí in the week before Christmas, isolating instances from their reported allegations which he dismissed out of hand. Moreover, when a Deputy presents evidence before this House of other allegations in the dossier, the Minister chose to ignore it because the evidence in his possession shows the response he gave to Deputy Wallace is inaccurate. It is at variance with the evidence and the facts of the matter, namely, gardaí are terminating these penalty points without any reason, without any procedure and are acting as a law unto themselves.

Members are not prejudging anything but are basing their opinions on the evidence. If the Minister thinks that Members of this House or the wider public will put up with the outcome of a so-called internal inquiry, he is greatly mistaken because all the evidence tells us that the aforementioned inquiry already has been discredited, when the gardaí who put their necks on the line to give the Minister this evidence have been approached over Christmas, denied the opportunity to do their jobs, prevented from accessing PULSE records without someone standing over their shoulders, being visited in their own homes by gardaí and so on. That is the type of system and people the Minister wants to investigate the matter. It is a joke. The issue will not go away.

I thank the Deputy and call on the Minister to reply.

The Deputy does not want this matter to be investigated. She simply wishes to be told there was some sort of conspiracy.

The Minister has not given Members any evidence to the contrary.

All the Deputies opposite have made up their minds a long time ago. Were they not holding press conferences in Buswell's Hotel, at which material that is protected under the Data Protection Act and which would reveal the identities of individuals was about to be revealed breathlessly by them all in a great panoply of publicity and excitement to the assembled media until they suddenly realised they might have a problem in respect of data protection?

We never said that.

I will defend in this House the integrity of An Garda Síochána and its capacity to do its work properly under the law. If there are individuals within the force who are not behaving properly, the matter will be addressed.

Will there be a press conference?

The Deputy raised a very important issue. I presume she supports our data protection legislation and recognises that individuals going about their private lives are entitled to some degree of privacy. Matters that are not of significant public import relating to their privacy should not be in the media and what they have done in life should not be grossly misrepresented. None of the Deputies can contain their enthusiasm for throwing names around the place. One of the difficulties with this issue is that a member of the Garda force was accessing the PULSE system, which indicated where charges were issued and cancelled but did not give the reasons. That member of the Garda force did not know the reasons as a result. No police force in the world can tolerate a position where a member believes he or she can access any computer system to reveal to a member of the public or a newspaper information that is confidential and protected under the data protection legislation.

Who is pre-judging now?

The Deputy asked about issues concerning the accessing of systems.

The Minister is making scandalous allegations.

The Garda Commissioner may, in accordance with his obligations as data controller under the Data Protection Act, be obliged to curtail use of Garda information systems or circulation of information retrieved from Garda information systems by a report or where such use or circulation would appear to be in breach of the provisions of the Data Protection Act. That should be a concern to Deputies.

That is one bit of a problem that could have a detrimental effect on innocent members of the general public, and that cannot be allowed to happen. We cannot allow large tranches of information from the Garda PULSE system to appear in the media. It is important that this issue is fully investigated and the process should address all the allegations comprehensively. If there is wrongdoing, it should be known, and if there is none, that should be stated as well. If there are to be consequences because matters have not been dealt with properly, so be it. If there are administrative, procedural or legal failures, the matters should be fully and properly addressed.

Four questions were taken together, so the Minister was afforded extra time under Standing Orders.

An answer would have been nice.