Before I address the topics on which the committee asked me to focus, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate An Garda Síochána’s commitment to working with all our oversight bodies, including the justice committee, in their roles in holding An Garda Síochána to account which should result in an improvement in the service we provide to the public. We fully recognise that we need to change. We need to change our culture. We need to provide our people with better training, resources and systems. We need to provide a better police service to the public. We have commenced a major programme of reforms to deliver those changes and they are currently being accelerated. In making those necessary changes, it is also vital that we continue to protect and support communities, and while we appreciate the scale of the problems we face, improvements have been made and we still enjoy the trust of the vast majority of the people.
Our public attitude survey shows that the number of victims of crime has fallen in the past year, victim satisfaction has improved, fear of crime is down, and satisfaction with the service we provide is up. In addition, recent activity against organised crime has resulted in many lives being saved, major arrests being made, and large quantities of drugs and firearms taken off our streets. These results are a tribute to the great work done by our people, Garda members, civilians and reserves, throughout the country every day.
I will now address the reports by Assistant Garda Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan into issues surrounding the fixed charge processing system, FCPS, and mandatory alcohol and intoxicant testing, MAT-MIT, checkpoints. These reports found major failings in how we handled both issues over a significant period. When the former Garda Commissioner was here with the committee in March, she apologised for those failures and I reiterate that apology. The reports identified unacceptable failures in our systems, processes, internal oversight, supervision, and management. As Assistant Garda Commissioner O’Sullivan wrote, this reflects poorly on the professionalism of the organisation.
We fully acknowledge the damage this has done to public confidence in An Garda Síochána. All of us in An Garda Síochána must now take responsibility to change our systems, practices, behaviours and culture so these issues cannot happen again and confidence is rebuilt. It is a collective issue and can only be fixed from the top down and the bottom up.
In relation to the FCPS and people being incorrectly penalised, we are examining all fixed charge penalty notices issued since 2006. We have completed 99% of that work. We have written to 11,924 persons who we identified as people whose cases must be appealed. An Garda Síochána is working with the Courts Service to ensure all wrongful convictions are appealed.
In July 2017, we brought 67 test appeal cases before the Dublin Circuit Court to be heard by the President of the Circuit Court. All of the cases were successfully appealed and the Court Service is in the process of updating the records of those concerned and returning fines paid. A further 3,800 are scheduled to be heard in Circuit Courts in December 2017. All the recommendations in Assistant Garda Commissioner O’Sullivan’s report in relation to the FCPS are being implemented either internally or through an existing interdepartmental working group.
On the issue of MAT-MIT checkpoints, a number of measures have been taken to address the deficiencies highlighted. A change to PULSE in August 2017 means that only essential data are now collected. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety has commenced a tender process for new Dräger devices which will improve recording and new and improved training methods are being developed. We have also adopted a new approach to roads policing, including the introduction of a roads policing bureau, which will assist in this area by strengthening governance.
In addition, checkpoint incidents identified in Assistant Garda Commissioner O’Sullivan’s report that were associated with implausible breath test data have been referred to each of the regional assistant commissioners for further examination. This process is being overseen by the assistant commissioner in charge of roads policing. We are also awaiting the report by Crowe Horwath for the Policing Authority and should it identify any additional issues, they will be addressed.
The decision to remove a child from their parents or guardians under section 12 of the Child Care Act is never taken lightly by An Garda Síochána. Following recommendations contained in the Ombudsman for Children’s report into the two incidents of the removal of Roma children from their families by An Garda Síochána, known as the Logan report, An Garda Síochána engaged the services of Professor Geoffrey Shannon to conduct an independent audit of the exercise by An Garda Síochána of section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. Professor Shannon’s comprehensive and detailed report was published on 29 May 2017. All the findings were accepted by An Garda Síochána.
While Professor Shannon’s report highlights important issues in relation to training, PULSE data and inter-agency working that need to be addressed, most critically it did not find any abuse of section 12 by members of An Garda Síochána, nor did it find any evidence of racial profiling. As Professor Shannon wrote, “the overwhelming finding in this audit is that Garda members commit great efforts to treating children sensitively and compassionately when a child has been removed under Section 12”.
Since the report’s launch on 29 May 2017, we have begun to adopt the report’s recommendations. An implementation plan has been developed by An Garda Síochána to ensure that all the recommendations are progressed. An Garda Síochána will continue to work closely with Professor Shannon to ensure implementation of his recommendations and we have already liaised with him on several occasions on this issue. The newly established national child protection unit at the Garda national protective services bureau is leading out on progressing the recommendations. Professor Shannon has also accepted our invitation to assist and participate in future child protection training for Garda members. An Garda Síochána, in co-operation with Tusla, is in the process of developing a model of inter-agency working which will meet the standards expressed in the report.
I want to give the committee my commitment as acting Garda Commissioner to ensuring the protection and support of communities while introducing the necessary changes to An Garda Síochána. I and my management team look forward to engaging with the committee in a constructive and positive manner on these and other issues with the joint focus of improving the service An Garda Síochána provides every day that protects and supports communities throughout the country.