Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Penalty Points System
5. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has implemented in full, in the identified timeframe of three months, the recommendations of the Garda Professional Standards Unit into the cancellation of penalty points; if not, the reason for same; when he will publish the review he asked the Garda Inspectorate to carry out on the GPSU report; and if he will publish the response he has received from the Garda Ombudsman to whom he forwarded both reports into the penalty points controversy for review. [40058/13]
The report of April 2013 from the Garda Síochána Professional Standards Unit looked at the processes and systems which are in place concerning the cancellation of fixed charge processing notices. The report complements the report prepared by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahoney of his examination into the allegations of irregularities in the operation of the fixed charge processing system. These two reports recommended a number of changes aimed at ensuring that administrative procedures are correctly followed throughout the force in relation to the cancellation of fixed charge notices.
The two reports were published on my Department's website on 15 May 2013. In publishing the reports, I welcomed their recommendations for enhanced safeguards to ensure integrity in the fixed charge processing system. In addition, in order to provide even further public reassurance as to the effectiveness of these changes, and with the agreement of the Garda Commissioner, I asked the independent Garda Síochána Inspectorate to validate the proposed changes prior to implementation, including making any necessary supplementary recommendations, and to review their implementation after 18 months. The inspectorate is making progress in its work in this regard and I await its report on the matter.
The inspectorate's assessment of the recommendations made in the two Garda reports, and any further recommendations in this area which the inspectorate feels are warranted, will be put in the public domain via the inspectorate's website.
I also provided the two reports to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for its consideration and advice on any further recommendations or procedural or legislative changes which are desirable in this area. I understand the Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, in turn, forwarded the reports to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and that the Ombudsman Commission subsequently appeared before that committee on 3 July 2013.
GSOC informed the committee that it had previously decided against opening an investigation. It was conscious that the whistleblower was a serving Garda and, therefore, under the Garda Act, they could not deem a complaint from him admissible. GSOC indicated to the committee that the decision was open-ended and it was reserving its position. I am somewhat surprised that Deputy Wallace does not seem to be aware of this position, as he was present at that meeting and, indeed, chaired part of the meeting himself. Neither of the reports was forwarded to the Ombudsman Commission by me or my Department.
There is an additional response here that is of relevance to the Deputy's question in regard to action that has been taken by the Garda Commissioner on foot of the reports. If I am allowed to give it to the Deputy by way of a supplementary reply, I will do so.
I wonder if the Minister will commit himself to incorporating the 12 recommendations of the GPSU report, or will he stick to the seven weaker versions that he came up with himself at the time the report came out? As the Minister will be aware, the Garda Professional Standards Unit was very critical of the process.
I would like to ask the Minister about some of the issues they raised. Has the fixed charge manual, which we were told would be in place and distributed to all gardaí within three months, been put in place? Another issue was the inclusion of humanitarian grounds as a grounds for cancellation. Despite the fact that this was being used wholesale it was not provided for in the 2005 guidelines. According to the Garda Professional Standards Unit, new guidelines for use by gardaí will include the humanitarian grounds aspect.
It was recommended by the GPSU that district officers be stripped of their ability to cancel fixed charge notices on PULSE. Does the Minister believe this is a good idea and, also, that it is important the system is centralised to ensure only people in the central authority in Thurles can cancel fixed charge notices? The GPSU also recommended that district officers be only allowed to consider the cancellation of notices in respect of offences which occurred in their geographical area. These are important issues that must be addressed if we are to strengthen the process.
I do not disagree with the Deputy. I am advised by the Garda Commissioner that a circular with revised cancellation procedures in regard to fixed charge notices issued to all members of the Garda Síochána on 30 August last. This particular directive may be further advised on foot of any recommendations that may be received by the Garda Inspectorate.
In the context of the new procedures introduced, the cancelling authority for a fixed charge notice is a district officer or an inspector appointed to act as a district officer in the district where the alleged offence occurred and the superintendent, Dublin Metropolitan Region - Traffic, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2 with regard to offences detected by personnel attached to that unit. This authority also applies to the inspector in charge of the Fixed Charge Processing Office, FCPO, Thurles, County Tipperary and other staff attached to that office as authorised by the Chief Superintendent of the Garda National Traffic Bureau.
I must emphasise that the cancelling authority only has jurisdiction to cancel a fixed charge notice for an alleged offence which occurred in its respective district area of responsibility. The cancelling authority will no longer terminate a fixed charge notice on the local garda's PULSE systems. All decisions to cancel fixed charge notices must be immediately communicated to the central authority, which is the inspector in charge of the Fixed Charges Processing Office, who will have responsibility for terminating fixed charge notices on the FCPS.
Special provisions have been put in place with regard to any conflict of interest that could arise concerning personnel, public figures, members of An Garda Síochána and immediate relatives of an applicant and in respect of a number of other matters of importance. Provision is also made for auditing.
I welcome that some positive action is being taken in this area. Am I correct that cancellations will now only be carried out by the central authority in Thurles? The Minister stated an audit process has been put in place, which is welcome. It is important an independent body rather than the Garda Síochána is responsible for that audit.
One of the GPSU recommendations is that cancellation requests should be in written form and filed with supporting documentation. This provision has been in place for some time but was not being implemented. Does the Minister agree with the GPSU recommendation that cancellation by gardaí of offences which occur outside their geographical area should not be permitted, as already provided for in the 2005 legislation? Many of these provisions are already in place but are not being implemented. It has been admitted that they are not being adhered to.
The Minister has thrown cold water on the whole process and the GPSU has highlighted that much was left to be desired in terms of the manner in which this process took place.
I did not pour cold water on anything. I merely made the point that in the context of the investigation conducted and the outcome of same some exotic decisions had been made. There were issues to be addressed and answered but some of the allegations made, such as in regard to fixed charge notices and road fatalities, were proved entirely untrue. Unfortunately, the individual who made those allegations is sticking by them without providing any evidence to substantiate them. It was important that the issues of concern were fully, properly and comprehensively addressed.
The new guidelines were circulated on 30 August last to all members of the Garda force. Detailed revised cancellation procedures, which are applicable to district officers and superintendents of the Dublin Metropolitan Region, - Traffic state that on receipt of a cancellation request in writing - which is the manner in which these matters should and will be dealt with - the cancelling authority will apply the following revised cancellation procedures: acknowledge receipt by sending a letter to the applicant, including where the offences occurred outside his or her district; confirm the alleged offence occurred within his or her district area of responsibility; otherwise arrange for the cancellation request to be forwarded to the correct cancelling authority, with a copy of any acknowledgement letter; review and examine the cancellation request in accordance with FCPS policy and procedures; conduct stringent checks to identify if the applicant has made previous applications and scrutinise the reasons included therein; the cancelling authority must be satisfied on the basis of the evidence presented that the fixed charge notice can be cancelled for the reason set out-----
-----they must sign and date the certified fixed charge notice cancellation form with the decision to cancel or reject the cancellation request and include a rationale for that decision; notify the applicant in writing when the application is rejected; forward the certified fixed charge notice cancellation letters form the FCPO for termination via e-mail at fcncancellationgarda.ie when the application is approved; and retain a hard copy of the relevant documentation in the district office for auditing purposes, including the cancellation request, the certified FCN cancellation form, signed and dated by the district officer.
We will move on now to Other Questions. I must ask Members to stick to the time limits. Clocks indicating the time allocated are available. While many Members are using the words "Finally" and "In conclusion" they do not conclude.