Wednesday, 24 September 2014
Penalty Points System
12. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which she satisfies herself that the procedures put in place in respect of the imposition of penalty points and any subsequent deletions are sufficiently robust; if she is satisfied that the oversight procedures continue to be fit for purpose and that recent revelations by the whistle blower are transparently investigated and resolved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35374/14]
This relates to the obvious need to clarify the recent allegations that penalty points continue to be a problem and that penalty points were allegedly written off on a basis that was not too clear. I want to ensure that the issue is dealt with quickly and adequately.
We have discussed this already but it is important to wait until we have the results of the inquiries before we draw any conclusions. The starting point is that the new policy is in place. It has been designed in keeping with the inspectorate’s recommendations, which were intended to restore confidence in the system, and it includes important safeguards to that end. There is an inter-departmental group working on this. I have attended one of its meetings along with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. That group will continue to monitor the implementation of the recommendations from the inspectorate’s reports.
There is centralisation of decision-making in regard to penalty points. The number of people who can give and erase penalty points has been significantly reduced to three. That changes the system dramatically. The present situation is different, there is centralised decision-making, a need for supporting documentation as well as much greater clarity about what would amount to exceptional circumstances. We said earlier that there will of course be circumstances, whether for members of the public or for the gardaí, in which emergency services are called and which may lead to a fixed notice charge being issued. There is clarity about those exceptional circumstances that warrant cancellation. Regular audit is a central part of the system. The inspectorate will review it again next year.
Some allegations were forwarded to me via the acting Garda Commissioner. They are being investigated, not just by the internal and external audit in the Garda Síochána but by the Garda Síocháana Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. I will get a report on those allegations.
Since June new procedures have been in place and I want to examine how they are working. If it is shown that any garda has abused the system there will be serious consequences.
I thank the Minister for the comprehensive reply. To restore full confidence in the system, will the Minister at the end of the inquiry or review of the system, issue a clear statement to the effect that the system is foolproof and only in exceptional circumstances will some discretion be allowed to those with the power to erase penalty points?
I have made a commitment to transparency in the handling of this issue. The acting Garda Commissioner has said the same. We want the public to have confidence in the system and to ensure that the law is applied equally to all citizens and that, if decisions are being taken to cancel penalty points, there are clear reasons outlined for that, that there is a fair and open system in place subject to regular audit and monitoring. That is what we want to see in place. When one changes from one system to another there is a transition. The statistics are not available because the new system has been operating for such a short time but statistical analysis will be available and will be made public.