El­e­vat­ing the de­bate over ap­por­tion­ing blame

El­e­vate: Raise or lift (some­thing) to a higher po­si­tion.

Irish Examiner - - News - Cor­mac O’Ke­effe

Through­out it all over the last five years, front­line gar­daí have had to get up every day, dust them­selves down, and face the pub­lic.

As the con­tro­ver­sies and scan­dals buf­feted the or­gan­i­sa­tion, they pa­trolled the streets, re­sponded to dan­ger, wit­nessed vi­o­lence and trauma and, in some cases, risked life and limb.

They did so dur­ing a time when their or­gan­i­sa­tion was un­der­go­ing open-heart surgery.

They watched as their num­bers were fil­leted; their abil­ity to re­as­sure com­mu­ni­ties and to re­spond to calls di­luted.

They op­er­ated with­out much train­ing and with min­i­mal su­per­vi­sion. Those on reg­u­lar beat duty com­plained they had no sergeants to su­per­vise them, let alone ac­com­pany them.

The Garda Rep­re­sen­ta­tive As­so­ci­a­tion ar­gued their case, high­lighted their plight, and crit­i­cised Garda bosses for not telling it as it was with the Gov­ern­ment.

The GRA could see how these work­ing con­di­tions and how the con­stant blows to the rep­u­ta­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion were im­pact­ing on the morale of mem­bers.

Cut to the lat­est scan­dal to hit the or­gan­i­sa­tion — the 1.5m fake breath tests over a seven-year pe­riod — and the GRA’s re­sponse on Thurs­day and its im­pact on mem­bers.

The in­ter­nal Garda re­port, con­ducted by as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner Michael O’Sul­li­van, said there was a range of fac­tors be­hind the 1.5m phan­tom breath tests: “In­flat­ing” of records by mem­bers, flawed and com­pli­cated record­ing sys­tems, lack of su­per­vi­sion; and pres­sure (in­ten­tional or in­ad­ver­tent) from man­age­ment.

But Mr O’Sul­li­van said the “in­escapable con­clu­sion” was that “much” of the 1.5m fake breath tests was due to “in­fla­tion” by mem­bers.

He said he had iden­ti­fied be­tween 106,000 and 318,500 breath tests that were in­flated — rep­re­sent­ing be­tween 7% and 22% of all 1.46m fake breath tests.

The re­port said more than 2,000 spe­cific check­point in­ci­dents had been iden­ti­fied, in­volv­ing al­most 70,000 in­flated breath tests.

The Taoiseach raised the is­sue of dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against in­di­vid­u­als re­spon­si­ble, while Jus­tice Min­is­ter Char­lie Flana­gan re­port­edly said those re­spon­si­ble should be pun­ished for bring­ing the force into dis­re­pute.

The O’Sul­li­van re­port was sent to re­gional as­sis­tant com­mis­sion­ers for in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It will be passed down to chief su­per­in­ten­dents as they are the only of­fi­cers who can ini­ti­ate dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against mem­bers.

The GRA did not comment for more than a week af­ter the O’Sul­li­van re­port was pub­lished on Septem­ber 6.

Its de­ci­sion-mak­ing body, the Cen­tral Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, met this week and on Thurs­day is­sued a state­ment blam­ing Garda man­age­ment “en­tirely” for the prob­lem.

An in­ter­view by GRA spokesman John O’Ke­effe with RTÉ’s crime cor­re­spon­dent Paul Reynolds (see Q&A) went a lot fur­ther.

He in­sisted from the start that GRA mem­bers “did not fal­sify” breath tests and re­peat­edly claimed they had been “put un­der pres­sure” from mid­dle and se­nior man­age­ment “to do so”.

He pointed out that there was com­pe­ti­tion among di­vi­sions and that mem­bers were told “to get these fig­ures up”.

The O’Sul­li­van re­port quoted the GRA and the As­so­ci­a­tion of Garda Sergeants and In­spec­tors, both of which pointed this out. The lat­ter body said there was a re­quire­ment from some Garda man­agers “to show in­creases in de­tec­tions” month-on-month and year-on-year.

The AGSI said man­agers used in­creased en­force­ment lev­els at a time of re­duc­ing re­sources to “im­prove pro­mo­tion pro­file”.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Garda Chief Su­per­in­ten­dents re­jected sug­ges­tions that they put pres­sure on mem­bers but did say that there was “com­par­i­son and scru­tiny” of di­vi­sional records at re­gional meet­ings.

The O’Sul­li­van re­port said that by fail­ing to re­view the ca­pac­ity to carry out check­points, man­age­ment was “in­ten­tion­ally or in­ad­ver­tently ap­ply­ing pres­sure” and that this was a “con­trib­u­tory fac­tor” to the dis­crep­an­cies.

So some sup­port for the claims of pres­sure.

Asked did gar­daí fal­sify the fig­ures or not, Mr O’Ke­effe said: “They fal­si­fied them un­der pres­sure from gar­daí — the prob­lem was mid­dle and se­nior man­age­ment put pres­sure on the mem­ber­ship of the GRA to have these high el­e­vated fig­ures.”

When pressed for clarity on whether they fal­si­fied or not, he said: “They did not fal­sify the fig­ures, that means the blame sin­gu­larly goes on them.” He added: “The de­fence is one of duress: They were un­der duress from mid­dle and se­nior man­age­ment to al­ter these fig­ures.”

He con­tin­ued to in­sist through­out the rest of the in­ter­view that GRA mem­bers did not fal­sify.

“GRA mem­bers did not fal­sify fig­ures, GRA mem­bers were told to el­e­vate fig­ures by mid­dle and se­nior man­age­ment and those fig­ures were el­e­vated thus.”

He re­fused to ac­cept that this el­e­va­tion or al­ter­ation was the same as fal­si­fy­ing fig­ures and in­sisted the fal­si­fi­ca­tion “be­gan” with the pres­sure be­ing put on mem­bers.

Apart from the con­tra­dic­tion at one point, the re­fusal to equate el­e­va­tion with fal­si­fy­ing (or what­ever way you de­scribe mak­ing fig­ures up), is un­likely to wash with peo­ple. Fur­ther­more, it gives a rea­son for peo­ple to be­lieve that gar­daí are yet again re­vert­ing to de­fault “de­nial” mode — a trait that has al­ready caused the or­gan­i­sa­tion much dam­age.

“This isn’t de­fend­ing mem­bers,” said one garda, “this adds pres­sure to mem­bers”.

Mr O’Ke­effe’s state­ment that ad­mit­ting fal­si­fi­ca­tion meant “the blame sin­gu­larly goes on them” may ex­plain why he per­sisted with the line that mem­bers did not fal­sify tests.

But he did not ac­cept that Garda mem­bers bore any re­spon­si­bil­ity what­so­ever, sug­gest­ing they were es­sen­tially co­erced into it.

An­other state­ment from Mr O’Ke­effe may also par­tially ex­plain his in­ten­tions.

He said: “The pres­sure was on them and, as a re­sult, any ac­tion that is taken against a GRA mem­ber, the GRA will firmly stand be­hind each in­di­vid­ual.”

This is a clear shot across the bows of man­age­ment — and the Gov­ern­ment — that any at­tempt to scape­goat front­line gar­daí through dis­ci­plinary ac­tion will be re­sisted.

This ap­pears to be a mes­sage to the GRA mem­ber­ship. But this is lost on the wider pub­lic — and the story has more to run. The in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion com­mis­sioned by the Polic­ing Author­ity is due in the first two weeks of Oc­to­ber.

The re­view by au­di­tors Crowe Howarth is un­der­stood to have in­volved con­sul­ta­tions with gar­daí in sta­tions at all ranks, in­clud­ing the front­line. Some Garda sources have ex­pressed satisfaction with how those con­sul­ta­tions went and have claimed that Garda man­age­ment will fare worse in the Crowe re­port.

Does the GRA know some­thing we don’t?

Pre­sum­ably, given its me­dia state­ments on Thurs­day, it has made an em­phatic case to Crowe.

It re­mains to be seen if Crowe has sided with the GRA ar­gu­ment or not.

Its re­port is more keenly an­tic­i­pated than ever.

Pic­ture: Larry Cummins

As­sis­tant com­mis­sioner Michael O’Sul­li­van, who con­ducted the in­ter­nal Garda re­port, said of the 1.5m fake breath tests that ‘much’ was due to ‘in­fla­tion’ by mem­bers.

Pic­ture: PA

Char­lie Flana­gan said those re­spon­si­ble for fake tests should be pun­ished.

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