Dec 4, 2014
Revenue Commissioners: Chairman Josephine Feehily called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: I welcome the witnesses. The authorised officer in this case would have been a source of information for Revenue and would have assisted Revenue's investigations as a matter of course. If Revenue, as an organisation, settled with somebody, would he have known that?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, apart from the 58 cases which we have published. We have no way of advising him of same and I referenced that fact in one of my earlier answers.
Deputy John Deasy: This is a critical issue because to a great extent, we are talking in the dark here. He would not have known because Revenue would not have divulged such information to the authorised officer at any point because, as Ms Feehily has said several times, Revenue does not divulge personal information relating to the tax affairs of any citizen. If Revenue had pursued an individual, even someone who was identified in the reports of the authorised officer, and had settled with that individual, the authorised officer would not know about that, even today, would he?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, he would not have known unless it came into the public domain through our defaulters' list. He would have known that we were making progress with the class because we regularly published updates but not at case level.
Deputy John Deasy: So, the individual who has pursuing this issue for many years has no information with regard to how Revenue has pursued prosecutions or made settlements. If Revenue made settlements with individuals, some of whom are named in the dossier, he would not have that information.
Ms Josephine Feehily: That is correct. He would not know what we did in individual cases.
Deputy John Deasy: So we really are talking in the dark here.
Not to beat around the bush, the accusation has been made that the Revenue Commissioners and other organisations did not complete investigations into particular Ansbacher accounts appropriately or properly. Accusations have been made of political interference. As Deputy Ross said, the main accusation relates to things Revenue did not do. Were there things that Revenue could not do, under legislation?
I refer in particular to the ten-year rule mentioned by Deputy Ross which was introduced in the 1997 Taxes Consolidation Act. Did Revenue have an opinion on that? Ms Feehily said that Revenue was given special powers in 1999 which really assisted it to prosecute. When it came to the ten-year rule, did Revenue have reservations? That rule obviously prevented Revenue from pursuing some cases.
The Revenue Commissioners are the administrators of the tax code. They are not the policy makers but it is fair to say that they have views and opinions on legislation that affects the tax code and they give those views and opinions to the Department of Finance regularly. It is expected that the board of the Revenue Commissioners would have an opinion on legislation, both formally and informally. Was a view presented by Revenue to the Department of Finance on the ten-year rule?
Ms Josephine Feehily: First, I am not entirely sure, without checking, in what year that provision was introduced because the Taxes Consolidation Act was a consolidation of the tax code. Deputy Ross said it was introduced in 1992 and he is probably the best source on that, subject to checking. I would have to check the papers around the drafting of that section to see what view was expressed. That said, my strong understanding on the basis of recent explorations of this issue, is that in the common law, even if we did not have that section in place, a prosecution for an offence committed more than ten years ago in this regulatory space, as opposed to other forms of jurisprudence, would be likely to fail the justice delayed - justice denied test.
Our role in a prosecution is to prepare cases and bring them to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. Certainly, engagement with the DPP would confirm the view that such a time period is an impediment, regardless of the section that is in place. I can say that based on my own discussions in Revenue in recent years because I have explored it. I would have to research and get my officials to check the papers from the year that the section was drafted to see what view Revenue may have expressed then. I was not even in the Revenue Commissioners at that time.
Deputy John Deasy: Ms Feehily made reference to the fact that when a criminal investigation would not pan out, her office turns to civil action. Does the ten-year rule apply in those circumstances too?
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes, in fact in civil actions, the common law view would be that the time period is even shorter. We have a four-year rule, generally speaking, vis-à-vis our authority to go backwards and that is considered relatively long.
Deputy John Deasy: I ask this because for the public looking in, this is the main issue. The public want to know why Revenue cannot go back 20 or 30 years in the course of an investigation. It would be helpful if Ms Feehily spelled out why that is the case. Is it because Revenue cannot get its hands on the original documentation, some of which may date back to the 1970s? Is it because of common law and the ten-year rule under the Taxes Consolidation Act that Revenue is prevented from doing so? It would be useful if Ms Feehily spelled out the various reasons Revenue cannot pursue an investigation after a certain period of time.
Ms Josephine Feehily: When one has two huge reasons, one tends not to go looking for three, four or five more. One needs original documents and evidence first.
One needs to be able to prove a connection between these documents, the person involved and tax evasion done knowingly, willingly or negligently. There needs to be a criminal standard of proof which is beyond reasonable doubt in respect of connections of this nature. This must all be done within ten years. We are talking here about events which took place in the 1970s and 1980s. That is a real difficulty. That was codified, so to speak, in law in the form of the ten-year rule.
Those are the reasons. They are common reasons which are not confined to Revenue, they apply across processes relating to the legal system and in terms of natural justice and fairness. In general law they have been commented on several times by judges in the context of fairness, the due process to which people are entitled, in the context of how far back regulatory bodies are permitted to go and so on. If it would be helpful, I can send a note to the committee in which I will set out all of the background considerations. However, it will come down to the issues to which I refer, namely, evidence beyond reasonable doubt, original documents and the ten-year rule.
Deputy John Deasy: I return to the reason we are here, that is, the accusation that Revenue did not investigate this matter properly. I would like Ms Feehily to provide information on the special projects team that was appointed to investigate the Ansbacher accounts, the number of people who were involved and the expertise they possessed.
Ms Josephine Feehily: The team was led by a very senior and experienced principal inspector of taxes who had previously carried out many investigations. He had available to him 20 staff, including half a dozen experienced investigators and research and clerical support staff. We invested in computer technology - the file magic system - we never had before and this proved to be an incredible asset to the team in sifting through all of the documentation. As the 2000s progressed and as I mentioned to Deputy Ross, other investigations were taking place. The investigation into bogus non-resident accounts ran in parallel in 2001.
We were also dealing with matters relating to High Court orders, offshore assets and tribunals. During those years, Revenue received sanction for 300 additional staff. We increased the number of people dealing with this group of cases from 20 to 30. The number of people on the team reached 30 in 2001. We maintained that number of people working on these cases until 2005. The ratio of people to cases was extraordinarily high by Revenue or any other standards. By the time the case base reached 289, there were 30 officers involved.
There was also a structure in place for the first couple of years of the process whereby very regular meetings were held. These were led by very experienced assistant secretaries who were all qualified inspectors of taxes in their own right and one of whom was a qualified barrister. There were also regular meetings with the then chairman, at which direction, strategy and decisions were continually questioned. The matter was taken extremely seriously.
Deputy John Deasy: Ms Feehily referred to the ten-year rule being a serious impediment. Were there other impediments? The legislation underpinning the 1993 tax amnesty was introduced. Did the then board of Revenue or any senior officials give an official opinion to the Department of Finance with regard to this amnesty? Some people, including a number of academics, remain of the opinion that the tax amnesty in question was unnecessary. There were massive differences between the 1988 amnesty, which was operated on the basis that all outstanding taxes be recouped, and the 1993 amnesty, which was known as the "15% incentive amnesty".
There is a theory - I have heard it outlined on a number of occasions - that as the investigations into the Ansbacher accounts proceeded in the period 2003 to 2005, plenty of people in senior positions in Revenue had major misgivings with regard to the way in which the legislation relating to the 1993 amnesty was drafted. Some Ansbacher account holders availed of the 1993 tax amnesty and when they were pursued, they had the certificates they had obtained as a result of that and these made them immune from prosecution.
This is a really important point. Some 20 Ansbacher account holders availed of the tax amnesty and there is a suggestion that the legislation under which that amnesty was established was politically motivated. I accept that Ms Feehily cannot comment on that matter to a certain extent. However, I am going to ask her about the kinds of reservations which continued to be expressed in Revenue while the investigations to which I refer were ongoing.
Ms Josephine Feehily: To be clear and as the Deputy stated, I must be careful not to comment on the policy area. I joined Revenue at the end of 1993 as the closing date for the amnesty approached. It was common currency among senior officials in Revenue that we were not exactly excited about this matter.
Deputy John Deasy: It is fair to say Revenue does not like amnesties at all.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Exactly.
Deputy John Deasy: It particularly did not like the one to which I refer.
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, we particularly did not like it and that is well known. Without reviewing the relevant files, I cannot inform the Deputy as to whether that was ever written down in a letter. However, it is well known - information in this regard has been placed in the public domain in the past - that the then board of the Revenue Commissioners was not in favour of it. I recall there being some criticism of the then board because the amnesty yielded a lot of money.
The board had stated that it was not necessary and should not be done because there would not be very much money forthcoming. I remember that aspect of a conversation taking place after the yield emerged. Revenue was not in favour of amnesties in general and would not have liked this one at all. The committee will be aware that in the past there have been various voluntary disclosure schemes, which are incentivised.
However, the Revenue position would always be that we should get the tax. That is just a general position of revenue organisations across the globe. We do not like to walk away from tax. I do not think I am commenting on policy when I say that the general position of Revenue and similar organisations elsewhere is that we do not favour amnesties which let people off paying tax. The amnesty was a huge impediment.
Deputy John Deasy: Specifically, what were the impediments involved?
Ms Josephine Feehily: The amnesty was designed to create a brick-solid Chinese wall between everybody and the office of the chief special collector, which was specially established. The chief special collector and his staff handled all of the amnesty declarations. On foot of those declarations - they were not allowed to examine them and they had no access to the tax files of the declarants - they issued the declarants with certificates. In law, those certificates were sufficient evidence to the rest of Revenue to the effect that, at any time in the future, we could not look behind them.
A special unit was established. Those present from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General will recall that Revenue had to suspend its internal audit function because of the difficulty of finding officials who had never seen tax files. An assurance had to be given that such officials would never see such files in the future and this meant that their careers had to be managed. I recall this because I worked in human resources, HR, at the time. We were obliged to suspend the internal audit function in order to find people who we could state were in compliance with the law because they had never been involved - as tax inspectors within the Collector General's office or anywhere else - in cases in the past. There was a logistical dimension involved which I do remember. An impervious wall - behind which the amnesty declarations are to this day - was put in place.
To this day we have a chief special collector and if a taxpayer produces an amnesty certificate to an inspector in the context of any investigation, the inspector, once he or she has it, can verify by asking the chief special collector whether the certificate is authentic and that is all that can be done.
Deputy John Deasy: Let us stick with the 20 Ansbacher account holders who availed of the tax amnesty in 1993. While Revenue was investigating this in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the Chairman had been there for ten years. For example, Revenue was not able to trace the source of moneys, which I understand to have been a major bugbear within the Chairman's organisation.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: At that time, when Revenue had made its considerations regarding its difficulties with the legislation that had been drafted and had been availed of by 20 particular Ansbacher account holders, did Revenue make its displeasure known to the Department of Finance?
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: How did Revenue do that?
Ms Josephine Feehily: We wrote to it.
Deputy John Deasy: What was the response?
Ms Josephine Feehily: We wrote in the context of looking for additional powers and we got most of what we looked for. However, as for the response with regard to the amnesty legislation, it was not revisited.
Deputy John Deasy: Was the reason given for that? Revenue obviously spelled out serious concerns with regard to particular individuals because it was precluded from pursuing them.
Ms Josephine Feehily: We spelled out concerns with regard to the process and the difficulties it created for us. I have not been able to find a reply to the letter but I know that the other powers in the letter were secured. This one was not.
Deputy John Deasy: Which one?
Ms Josephine Feehily: Revisiting the amnesty legislation.
Deputy John Deasy: Did the Chairman state there was no reply?
Ms Josephine Feehily: I have not been able to find it in the time allowed.
Deputy John Deasy: Can the Chairman remember what the Department of Finance said to Revenue?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No. I certainly cannot remember but the fact it did not happen I guess is the answer.
Deputy John Deasy: It is an important question. The Revenue Commissioners are and at the time were the administrators of the tax code. They had one hand tied behind their backs with regard to particular individuals. Revenue made its opinion clear that it was not appropriate and that the legislation underpinning all of this needed to be changed but that was ignored.
Ms Josephine Feehily: I am reviewing a piece of paper to make sure I am giving the Deputy the complete answer. Our final paragraph stated that when the Department had had an opportunity to peruse the contents of this, it probably would be appropriate to have the views of the Attorney General and that we were available to discuss it with the Department and with that office, if required. This would not be an unusual process for us.
Each year, we write submissions to the Department of Finance and then certain results are achieved. That Department does not usually write back to say it is not doing X. That is not usually the way it works. What it tends to do in a normal year, and I imagine this was no different, is that it feeds into a tax strategy group paper and then the decisions emerge from a process, rather than in an itemised reply. We would not have got a reply in respect of the answers that were positive either. It is not that kind of process. We make our submissions and make known our views, analysis gets done and a finance Bill emerges. Policy decisions get made by the Government and a finance Bill emerges. However, we did try.
Deputy John Deasy: The Chairman outlined the profile of the people who were Ansbacher account holders. Of the 20 people who availed of the tax amnesty and who were Ansbacher account holders, can she tell me what was their profile?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No.
Deputy John Deasy: That is not possible, no?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No.
Deputy John Deasy: Is that a reason-----
Ms Josephine Feehily: I do not know who they are. I cannot know who they are.
Deputy John Deasy: Okay.
Ms Josephine Feehily: They are behind a wall.
Deputy John Deasy: The Chairman knows the profile of the overall group of Ansbacher account holders but she does not know the profile.
Ms Josephine Feehily: What I have said to the Deputy earlier, because I am in danger of getting close to classes and breaking confidentiality, I referenced the profile of the cases that were published as being the most suitable source of information for the committee and the profile there was of very wealthy people, the occupation largely being company directors and the behaviour as being about sheltering wealth. I need to be safe.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough and I totally appreciate that. However, I must clear up something in this regard. The inference is that of those 20 people who availed of that tax amnesty in 1993, there was political pressure or a political motive behind the drafting of the 1993 legislation. My question is whether Revenue ever expressed a concern related to that.
Ms Josephine Feehily: I doubt very much if Revenue in 1992 or 1993 would have expressed a view-----
Deputy John Deasy: I am not talking about 1993. I am talking about ten tears later as Revenue was investigating this matter.
Ms Josephine Feehily: -----about a political motivation. No. I want to narrow it and that is the Deputy's question.
Deputy John Deasy: This is clear. It is important this is said.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Revenue did not express a view nor would ever express a view about the motivation of a policy decision taken by the Government.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough.
Ms Josephine Feehily: A policy decision validly taken by the Government and passed into law by the Oireachtas. Revenue would then simply operate that law. The independence works both ways. While we have our independence we have our - incidentally, in the context of the amnesty, 38,000 people availed of it. The frustration that perhaps caused us to write letters was not related to Ansbacher. The 20 people were not the issue; it was the 38,000 people and it was a bigger issue for us.
Deputy John Deasy: A lot of money was raised but the argument is that a lot more should have been raised because it was only a 15% tax. That is a view expressed by the Chairman's organisation at the time.
Ms Josephine Feehily: Yes.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fair enough.
Mr. Seamus McCarthy: Another observation that is worth making is that 145 people did settle who could have availed of the amnesty at 15% but did not.
Deputy John Deasy: I have a couple of quick questions. I refer to the two reports under discussion today and acknowledge the Chairman does not have them to hand. Can she tell me whether they identified new cases?
Ms Josephine Feehily: No, and perhaps I can explain why. We are talking about the two dossiers that Revenue received from the relevant Ministers in 2008 and 2011. The reason is I am saying they were not new cases but there were new documents. There was supporting evidence and there was validation. However, there had been highly significant engagement with the authorised officer right through the period before that.
Deputy John Deasy: That is important and let me ask the Chairman a different question. Did that new information or those new documents cause Revenue either to bring a case to a conclusion or to reopen a case?
Ms Josephine Feehily: They certainly did not cause us to reopen any cases. They would have been helpful in advancing cases because the Deputy saw the graph and we really were in settlement mode there. However, I must repeat that by then, we had secured substantial documents, definitely more numerically, than those to which the authorised officer ever had access. As we had our own sources and our own documentation, what we were getting largely was validation and supporting documentation and that always is helpful.
Deputy John Deasy: I think that is it but if I may comment, I believe the first question I asked is very important and the response that was given is critical to this entire episode and that is that if Revenue actually have settled, for arguments sake, with individuals who have been named in a particular dossier, the authorised officer would not know about it. The authorised officer would not have any details with regard to the settlement, would not know how it was pursued or whether prosecution was pursued. The authorised officer would not have that information. We are talking in the dark and it is critical that this information be made known.
PAC Meeting | Thursday, 10 July 2014
An Garda Síochána: Road Traffic
Deputy John Deasy: I welcome the acting Garda Commissioner. My first question relates to notices issued for speeding offences which arrive in the post. In many of the cases that come before the courts, the reason for the summons is that no payment was received for the fine. In many cases, however, people state that they have not received the notice. Would it not be better for everyone involved if notices were sent by registered post, given that people take notice of registered post? This is a common sense measure which would save court time and has been suggested to me by serving gardaí several times in the past year.
Acting Garda Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan: This is one of the areas we are very conscious of. We mentioned it earlier when talking about the non-delivery of fixed charge notices. The criminal justice working group has been established to look at the recommendations from the fixed charge processing system inspectorate report, and that is a matter that has been prioritised by the working group in terms of the registered delivery of fixed charge notices. The change would be the introduction of a presumption of delivery via enactment of Part 3 of the 2010 Act. This would help address the issue and enable a speedier service.
John Deasy: Ms O'Sullivan expects that people will receive notices by registered post in the medium term.
Noirín O'Sullivan: Yes, I think so. Mr. O'Sullivan from the Department of Justice and Equality co-chairs the working group, so he could update the Deputy on the position in that regard.
Doncha O'Sullivan: The working group is looking at a provision in the 2010 Road Traffic Act which changes the presumption with regard to delivery. This would mean that if there was a certificate of delivery, the presumption in court would be that a person received it. He or she would then have to be able to provide active, positive evidence that he or she did not get it. The context is that at the moment the Garda must essentially prove that a person received the notice, which is impossible.
John Deasy: The working group is changing the burden of proof.
Doncha O'Sullivan: Yes; essentially, we are changing the burden of proof. The road tax office tells us that very few people contact it to say they did not receive a road tax disc in the post. It uses the same address that is used for serving fixed charge notices. The hope is that the burden will shift. The working group is looking at other reforms aimed at trying to address and improve this matter. The registered post issue can be considered in that context, but it is one of a number of issues that are being looked at.
John Deasy: What is the timeline for making this change?
Doncha O'Sullivan: The main timeline is linked to the introduction of what is known as the third payment option, an issue that will also be helped here. We hope we will be able to agree a plan to roll out the information technology required to implement the third payment option. While we might reach agreement on that this year - I hope it will be soon - there is a long lead time to deliver this IT plan. It would take at least a year to do that.
John Deasy: My next question relates to the number of road deaths, which are the main reason the witnesses are before the committee. The number of road deaths has increased in the past couple of years.
I want to bring the witnesses back a few weeks to when the Secretary General of the Department of the Transport, Tourism and Sport and representatives of the Road Safety Authority appeared before the committee. Perhaps this a question for the assistant Commissioner Mr. Twomey also. I asked a question about analysing causation and the reasons for road deaths. The example I used was the lowering of the maximum allowed blood alcohol level a couple of years ago in legislation. I was surprised that no analysis had been done by an organisation such as the Road Safety Authority when it comes to road fatalities. In the meantime, the committee has contacted the Road Safety Authority a few times. Given the increased number of checkpoints, more random breathalysing, more GoSafe cameras and the lowering of the blood alcohol limit, it seems obvious that one would analyse these measures and link them with road fatalities so that we can know what works and what does not. I am amazed that an organisation such as the Road Safety Authority does not conduct that kind of analysis on an ongoing basis. We pass legislation all the time, but in some cases I do not believe the evidence is behind it completely. I think the witnesses know where I am coming from. I wonder what kind of analysis the Garda Síochána conducts when it comes to an issue as serious as this.
Noirín O'Sullivan: Absolutely. There are a lot of complexities involved in the whole area of serious or fatal injuries in road collisions. If it would be helpful, I will invite Superintendent Con O'Donohue, who deals with the RSA on a regular basis in respect of this matter, to explain some of the issues I am raising.
Con O'Donohue: From 1 January 2014 we improved the data that is provided to the Road Safety Authority. A number of changes to the data that it had requested were rolled out as part of a project on 1 January 2014. This also means the RSA is getting the data in a more timely fashion than previously. Allied to that, on a regular basis, about every three or four years, the Road Safety Authority and its predecessors have come to look at a sample of Garda files. They get down and dirty in terms of the actual investigation files to see what they can elicit from those files in terms of the causation factors. Recently I met the RSA's research manager. There is a proposal to start another research project within the next couple of months. Our files are open at all times to the Road Safety Authority to come in and analyse them. It will be going to tender, as the RSA does not have the resources to carry out this significant job, which is exactly what the Deputy is saying - getting down and dirty into the files to see exactly what were the causation factors for particular accidents, whether it was a combination of sleep deprivation and alcohol or drugs, speed, or the condition of vehicles. Currently, the RSA gets data from our PULSE system; essentially, the PULSE system records that a collision occurred and gives the headline issues. It always has that.
John Deasy: Let me break it down somewhat. Let us say there were 200 fatalities - I think the number was 190 in 2013. How many of those fatalities related to excessive blood alcohol? Is that information tracked by the organisation? It is fairly basic. I appreciate Mr. O'Donohue's response and what is being done. Of those 190 fatalities, how many of those were related to alcohol?
Con O'Donohue: Off-hand, I cannot tell the Deputy about the alcohol-----
John Deasy: Do you track that?
Con O'Donohue: It is recorded. In regard to seatbelts, I am aware that in 20% of the fatalities people were not wearing seatbelts.
Deputy John Deasy: Does Mr. O'Donohue know where I am coming from with this? This is basic stuff. I have been around here for 12 years, and I always think that some people legislate blindly because they do not have a clue. If the Garda Síochána and the Road Safety Authority do not know, how do legislators know what legislation to pass if it is not evidence-based in terms of what works and what does not work?
Con O'Donohue: I understand.
John Deasy: There is a big gap here.
Con O'Donohue: We certainly-----
John Deasy: It is clear from the number of road deaths ten years ago compared to the number today that there has been a massive drop, so some things definitely work and improvements have been made across the board. I still do not get why more analysis is not done when it comes to causation.
Noirín O'Sullivan: In terms of blood alcohol count, as I said at the outset, sometimes it can be difficult, particularly if people have been fatally injured in road collisions or require medical intervention very early on. That is a priority. Research is done by the Medical Research Bureau, also which has responsibility for analysing the blood alcohol content of samples. As Mr. O'Donohue has said, we see that speed is cause of many fatal road collisions and serious injury collisions; also, non-wearing of seat belts and the use of mobile phones. Coming into the autumn period, there is a lack of awareness by pedestrians in terms of dark clothing and stepping off footpaths. Sometimes cyclists wear earphones and iPods. There are many causation effects other than blood alcohol content, but that is being monitored.
John Deasy: I thank the acting Garda Commissioner for her response. Maybe I could ask Superintendent O'Donohue another obvious question. The number of road deaths increased from 162 in 2012 to 190 in 2013. What is the reason for the increase, given that we have made all these improvements? We are here to discuss the GoSafe system. More checkpoints have been put in place, as mentioned by the Road Safety Authority. What is the reason road deaths have increased by almost 30 in the year?
Con O'Donohue: There are a variety of contributing factors to most collisions, as alluded to by the acting Garda Commissioner. Some of them are very unusual. The Deputy mentioned that legislation was passed. The reduced blood alcohol limits, mandatory alcohol testing, the safety camera project and all the various initiatives taken in recent years have reduced the very high level of road deaths that obtained ten years ago.
John Deasy: I accept that.
Con O'Donohue: We are now at a stage at which the number of fatalities will bottom out. The best countries in the world, unfortunately, still have road fatalities. At some point the number will bottom out.
John Deasy: Fair enough.
Con O'Donohue: There will always be a blip. Sometimes they cannot be explained in terms of an overall trend. We were surprised that in 20% of the fatalities last year people were not wearing seatbelts. That is one that jumped off the page, with everyone asking, in this day and age, why 20% of people were not wearing seatbelts. Speed is still a factor. With the change in the economy, as things start to improve we are getting more vehicles on the road. I spoke to Road Safety Authority about that issue and asked if it is an issue we need to research. Would fuel sales indicate that we are getting more vehicles on the road and more mileage travelled? As a consequence, there is likely to be an increase in the number of deaths and serious injuries. The Road Safety Authority, which has a research function, has not come back to us on that yet, but it will. Certainly, we are working with the Road Safety Authority and the National Roads Authority on the engineering issues. All the time we are sharing and trying to get information. As to 2013, whether it was a blip or whether the number of fatalities is beginning to level out, we still have to keep striving the reduce the number. We are aware of the tragedy for families with one fatality, so we will never be satisfied. At the same time, we all know we will never reach zero, although that should be the ultimate aim.
John Deasy: I thank the superintendent.
The last set of crime figures showed that homicides had risen by 22.5%. The acting Garda Commissioner made a comment at the time in which she said the increase was not attributable to organised crime. Can she explain? To what does she attribute the increase?
Noirín O'Sullivan: Unfortunately, no more than for road deaths, any death is a death too many, no matter how it is caused. The increase in the homicides is not attributable to organised crime.
It is certainly attributable to a greater propensity to violence and "familial" interactions - I do not like using the term "domestic" - as opposed to other types of interactions such as organised crime. There is something to be done here in regard to responsible behaviour and awareness.
While the homicide rate is up this year, there is a detection rate of 67%, which I see as positive. I do not like to talk of homicide in these terms, because even one death is a death too many. We want to prevent deaths rather than detect them.
John Deasy: The acting Commissioner is basically making the case that society is becoming more violent.
Noirín O'Sullivan: Certainly there is more of a rush to violence not just in terms of deaths, but in terms of serious injury and people acting without thinking.
PAC Meeting | June 19, 2014
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
Mr. Tom O'Mahony (Secretary General) and Ms Moyagh Murdock, right (CEO, Road Safety Authority) called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: I have an issue which is not directly related to the discussion but it is pertinent to the Department. A couple of years ago legislation was passed to reduce blood alcohol limits for drivers from 80 mg to 50 mg. Has any analysis been carried out on the effectiveness of that measure? Has anyone in the Department looked at causation or levels of effectiveness in the reduction of blood alcohol limits from 80 mg to 50 mg?
Tom O'Mahony: The RSA carries out the research but it might be a bit soon.
Moyagh Murdock: Is the Deputy is referring to the effectiveness of the ability to drive with a lower alcohol level?
John Deasy: No, I am talking about prevention of death.
Moyagh Murdock: I will need to revert to the Deputy with more specific analysis. Over the past 12 months, mobile checkpoints and detections for breath tests have shown a significant reduction in the level of detections with the new levels in operation. Lowering the levels has raised awareness and there are fewer people taking chances. The figures over the past 12 months have demonstrated a 3% reduction in the number of detections, even though the number of mobile checkpoints has increased.
John Deasy: The number of checkpoints has increased.
Moyagh Murdock: Yes, by 9%.
John Deasy: There has been a 3% reduction. It is not possible to say because the RSA has not done an analysis.
Moyagh Murdock: There has not been any major analysis but I can give the Deputy some of the top line figures for the number of detections and the number of checkpoints-----
John Deasy: No, that is okay.
Moyagh Murdock: There has been an increase of 9% in mobile checkpoints over the 12 months and a reduction of detections on alcohol issues by 3%, so a combination of the two would indicate that there has been a reduction in risk-taking. However, there are still too many getting caught, having taken the chance.
John Deasy: What kind of analysis is carried out by the RSA as a matter of course to determine whether legislation is effective or ineffective? Surely this is pretty landmark legislation when it comes to road safety. An appreciable period of time has passed since the enactment of that legislation. Is there a set period of time for the RSA and the Garda Síochána to determine its effectiveness?
Moyagh Murdock: Over recent months we have been working with the Garda Síochána and interfacing with the PULSE system to collect the statistics. There was much work done and significant investment by the RSA to get that information in order that our own research section can now utilise it. The system is now working. We receive excellent information on a daily basis. It will take some time to build up some statistical analysis but we are happy to come back with information on the effectiveness of the legislation. A raft of new legislation is being rolled out in the coming months and points are being increased from two to three over a number of offences.
John Deasy: In short, Ms Murdock is saying there has been no analysis as such.
Moyagh Murdock: The analysis we have done in the past would be more of a manual analysis. We did not have the capability until more recently to do the type of database interrogation about which the Deputy is talking. There certainly was analysis done in the past, but we will have a much more interrogative analysis in future that will allow us to produce information on a more scientific basis.
John Deasy: When will that analysis be available?
Moyagh Murdock: We are using the information as we go along. It is a question of setting the parameters of the investigation and deciding what information we want to find out. That process is under way and we have the capacity to come back with specific results on specific queries and set out an analysis of them. The Garda Síochána issues monthly statistics on fatalities, collisions, checkpoints, and the number of detections of speeding, driving while intoxicated and other offences under the road traffic legislation. There is a whole raft of queries on which we will be able to work with the Garda.
John Deasy: I have a related question in regard to drug driving. Given that the number of checkpoints is up by 8% or 9%, has there been a corresponding increase in the rate of detection of drug driving?
Moyagh Murdock: I do not have that information to hand. Our research and education section is working very closely with the Garda on this issue.
John Deasy: Does Ms Murdock have any idea of the numbers? This issue has been knocking around for some years now.
Moyagh Murdock: It is a work in progress. I will come back to the Deputy with information.
John Deasy: Does Ms Murdock not have any sense as to the effectiveness of the current regime?
Moyagh Murdock: I do not have that information to hand. We are working with the Garda on the effectiveness of detection and, in particular, the challenges in terms of on-the-spot detection. There is a working group engaging with the Garda on that issue. I will get back to the Deputy with more details.
John Deasy: I am not sure whether the Comptroller and Auditor General's office has done any work on this. I would like some type of analysis to be done with regard to blood alcohol levels, drug driving, increased checkpoints and the effectiveness of measures that are taken legislatively and by the Garda. It is important that such an analysis be done.
Moyagh Murdock: Absolutely.
John Deasy: We are all striving to improve road safety, but if we do not know what is effective, we are shooting in the dark. The weakness in the system for years has been that some of the measures that were taken were introduced by legislators who were not tuned in to what really needs to happen. The only way of finding out what is required is by doing the type of indepth analysis to which I referred. I am surprised it has not been done given the time that has passed since the enactment of the legislation. The issue of drug driving has been spoken about endlessly.
Moyagh Murdock: The technological advances we have implemented, with the PULSE system now interfacing with our own systems, will facilitate what the Deputy is talking about. I agree 100% that we should be able to produce that type of information, not just in regard to drink driving but also drug driving. I am optimistic that we will be able to get information for the Deputy in the near future. That project has just come to fruition. It involved a significant amount of development work and an investment of more than €400,000 in developing the IT interface.
PAC Meeting | May 1, 2014
Department of Social Protection
Secretary General, Ms Niamh O'Donoghue, called and examined
Acting Public Accounts Committee Chairman (Deputy John Deasy): Expenditure on pensions totalled €6.3 billion in 2012, which is an increase of 7% on 2009. A further 3% increase was projected for 2013.I would like to shift to something in which the Department is involved intimately, that is, the Waterford Crystal pensions issue. Rather than outline the background, of which Ms O'Donoghue will be aware, perhaps she could outline the Department's involvement in this and the current position when it comes to dealing with those representing the workers. The High Court has set a date in the autumn. Many people, including me, are unhappy about that because this has dragged on a long time but perhaps Ms O'Donoghue can address the current position, the Department's involvement and, broadly, the issue of under funded pension funds in the State. What is of interest to me is how we got to this position, how the massive under funding of the Waterford Crystal pension scheme was allowed to happen, how we will deal with the numerous other under funded pension schemes that are discussed regularly, which probably amount to billions of euro, and how we deal with the governance of these schemes, for example, how the trustees acted and so on. It is a significant issue.
Niamh O'Donoghue: The Waterford Crystal case arose because of a case taken to Europe in the context of what was called a double insolvency where a pension fund was insolvent and the company then became insolvent. Workers, therefore, were caught by a double insolvency and the question arose in respect of the State's liability to protect their pension rights in that instance. The court made findings that the State had an obligation and had failed in its obligation in regard to a particular directive to establish a rate at which such protection could be offered. In terms of how that would be addressed, legislation was passed last year to address the gap that was identified by Europe. The mechanism is now in place in terms of future proofing to ensure there is some protection for workers but, obviously, a number of companies, including Waterford Crystal, are caught in that gap between the directive and last year's legislation. Given that it is the subject of a court case, I cannot comment on it except to say the court case is ongoing but the predominant group is the workers n the Waterford Crystal case. A small number of other schemes are in the same situation with a much smaller number of workers.
Acting Chairman (John Deasy): The Department has made an offer to the group representing the workers. The issue that will be decided by the High Court in the autumn is how much or what percentage of their pension they will get ultimately. The Department is actively engaged with the people who represent them. Am I correct that an offer has been made by the State to provide a particular level of payment?
Niamh O'Donoghue: It would be very inappropriate for me to comment on that.
Acting Chairman (John Deasy): Is the Department in contact with the High Court regarding the setting of dates or is that an independent function of the court?
Niamh O'Donoghue: That is handled by the Attorney General's office.
Acting Chairman (John Deasy): Is Ms O'Donoghue in contact with the Attorney General's office?
Niamh O'Donoghue (below): Yes.
"Some indication needs to be given by Ministers or the Department, although it does not speak for Ministers, with regard to the urgency required. It has been dragged out for too long and there needs to be some resolution regarding this scheme, notwithstanding the massive issue of under-funded pension schemes."
Acting Chairman (John Deasy): Ms O'Donoghue, therefore, liaises with the Attorney General's office regarding its communications with the High Court. Can she understand the difficulty for the workers? I know people who have died since this process began, going back to when the court case was taken to the Europe. It is estimated 30 former workers have died since this was initiated and that is an issue for us. It has gone on too long. There is a huge issue with under funding of pension schemes but-----
Niamh O'Donoghue: It is a huge issue in the State and Ireland is not unique in terms of problems with defined pension schemes and the funding of pension schemes. A number of things have happened. There has been a restructuring of the governance arrangements. The Pensions Authority has been put in place to replace the Pensions Board, which had responsibility in this area for regulating the application of the Pensions Acts. The funding standard has been restored and engagement is going on with all the schemes in respect of their plans to meet that standard over a number of years. It is, therefore, an active space at the moment but it is challenging and difficult. That is not unique in Ireland.
Acting Chairman (John Deasy): Ms O'Donoghue has explained the nexus regarding the Government generally. The Department is in communication with the Attorney General's office and it might be in contact with the office of the President of the High Court. Some indication needs to be given by Ministers or the Department, although it does not speak for Ministers, with regard to the urgency required. It has been dragged out for too long and there needs to be some resolution regarding this scheme, notwithstanding the massive issue of under funded pension schemes. Has the Department examined the governance of the Waterford Crystal pension scheme and how that hole came to be in the first place? Has this been investigated?
Niamh O'Donoghue: The governance and operation of the scheme was subject to the regulation of the Pensions Board.
Acting Chairman (John Deasy): "No" is the answer. The Department is dealing with this perspectively or from this point on.
Niamh O'Donoghue: The Department was actively involved in the court case that led to Europe so very considerable examination was done in regard to that. However, at that point, the company and scheme were insolvent and the workers found themselves in that situation.
PAC | March 13, 2014
Department of Justice
Secretary General, Mr Brian Purcell, called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: With the indulgence of the Chairman, I will ask a further question on training, education and development programmes for former prisoners and the reintegration of former prisoners in the community. One such programme, U-Casadh, is located in Waterford. How much money is the Probation Service allocating to these organisations? Does the Department intend to increase funding for these groups? Do these programmes work and would it be worthwhile investing more money in them?
Brian Purcell: What is the name of the project in Waterford?
John Deasy: It is called U-Casadh and one of many such programmes aimed at reintegrating former prisoners into the community.
Brian Purcell: There are obviously significant benefits from having schemes that facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community. One can only do so much work in terms of rehabilitation within a prison setting. As I know only too well from my time as head of the Prison Service, when offenders are going back into the community, the early stages after their return are the key period. Whatever progress can be made while they are in custody, it is important that supports are available on the outside. The Probation Service has a budget for these projects and in 2012 expenditure on community based organisations was approximately €10.3 million. The Department intends, in so far as our budgets allow us, to continue to support community based projects for offenders returning to the community.
John Deasy: The focus of the committee is on saving money and obtaining value for money. Does investment in rehabilitation programmes for offenders save money in the long run? The Department obviously has conducted cost-benefit analyses in this area and of some individual projects. What is Mr. Purcell's opinion of the investment it is making in rehabilitation projects? Do they pay dividends and would it be worthwhile investing more money in them? Has the Department carried out an analysis?
Brian Purcell: I believe the projects are paying dividends. To be honest, some of them are better than others and the Probation Service examines, audits and analyses the various projects to find out which ones it considers are delivering the greatest benefits. This will continue to be done on an ongoing basis.
"We have all read reports on the success the Scandinavian countries have achieved in this area."
John Deasy: Does the Probation Service make a case to the Secretary General for additional budgets if it finds they are needed?
Brian Purcell: While the Probation Service would look for extra budgets, obviously the Department's budgets are limited by the amounts allocated to us by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We fund 45 community based organisations that are funded by the Probation Service throughout the country, which represents 28% of the entire Probation Service budget allocation. These organisations provide a range of services, depending on the areas in which they operate. I certainly believe one can obtain a significant benefit from investment in community run and community based programmes for prisoners. One of the measures we have introduced that has been quite successful has been the community return scheme where we have taken suitable prisoners and put them into the community. In other words, the prisoners concerned are able to serve the tail end of their sentences in doing community service. This project has proved to be very successful since it was introduced in late 2011. I see the way forward as continuing to invest as much as possible in those services in which the Probation Service is involved because this investment is showing benefits. For the first time in a long time we have seen a reduction in the number of people coming into custody. The investment we have made in this type of project in the community and through the Probation Service has been instrumental in that regard. I am not saying by any means that it is the only reason, but it is-----
John Deasy: Mr. Purcell has made a significant statement. He has said he believes these schemes are effective and that it is worth investing money in them. I do not know if the Comptroller and Auditor General has ever examined this issue or if his office has a role in analysing the expenditure the Department and the Probation Service allocates to these organisations in terms of its effect and the end result for the Exchequer in reducing the level of reoffending and the recidivism rate among those who enter these programmes compared to that among those who do not do so. Would it be worthwhile examining this issue? Would such an examination be helpful to the Probation Service or the Department?
Seamus McCarthy: We looked at the Probation Service in considerable detail, but, again, it was probably about ten years ago. I think one of the aspects we looked at was how they assessed which programmes worked and perhaps which were less successful. While it is something we could certainly return to at some point, it is not an easy process. One could end up case-making if one wanted to support this approach or one could end up making a case to abolish these organisations if one wanted to do this. There are so many variables in the equation that it is a significant challenge for the Department. However, it is something that needs to be done.
John Deasy: Mr. Purcell has stated these programmes have had a considerable effect on the recidivism rate. Given that a study of the programmes in which we are investing €10.3 million has not been conducted in the past ten years, surely we need to analyse them to ascertain how effective they are? All of these organisations keep track of the people who avail of their programmes and each of them will, therefore, have statistics. We have all read reports on the success the Scandinavian countries have achieved in this area. I do not know if there is anything more scientific that could be done to bolster our belief and faith in investing in this area.
Seamus McCarthy: The point about my office having looked at it about ten years ago is beside the point. The Department would be obliged, in terms of its spending on an ongoing basis, to do that type of evaluative work on a routine basis, not waiting for my office to come and do it.
Brian Purcell: We do that. We have a very close engagement with the Central Statistics Office. We have two members of staff from that office in the Department, one of whom has done a great deal of work with the Probation Service and would focus on the type of thing that works and the type of thing that does not. What I am saying is based on what we have seen ourselves. I would make the point, the Comptroller and Auditor General touched on it, that this is a very broad area and it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly what works and what does not work. In relation to the problem and the individuals one is dealing with, it is not necessarily one particular intervention that delivers the result. It depends on a myriad of different issues, most of which do not fall within the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, or the Probation Service or the Prison Service. It also depends on a wide range of societal issues but also on a wide range of services provided by a wide range of other agencies.
John Deasy: Sure.
Brian Purcell: We try to evaluate what works best and what does not. That is something we will continue to do although, at the same time, I have to point out that we only have a limited amount of money that we can spend on these projects and we spend whatever we can.
John Deasy: That is what I am getting at. Notwithstanding the intangibles the Comptroller and Auditor General has mentioned - I accept all that and what he has said - I do not know if it is within his remit to take another look at this issue and, perhaps, assist the Department, notwithstanding the work those two individuals do within the Department, to see if this money is being well spent or if more money would result in a lower recidivism rate.
PAC Hearing | 23 Jan 2014
Management of Fixed Charge Notice System
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan called and examined
Deputy John Deasy: This material includes a large number of reports, including four reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General dating back to 2000 and the report from Assistant Commissioner O'Mahoney. The Garda Inspectorate is also looking into these matters as they relate to fixed charge notices and we have a report from the Garda professional standards unit dating from April. When one looks through all this material, it is fair to conclude, as the Commissioner stated, that the system has become better in some ways. That conclusion is proved by the figures. However, the system has also got worse in some areas. There have been marginal negative changes in respect of issues such as serving summons, inputting data, allowing offences or potential offences to become statute-barred and failing to prosecute individuals who are driving company cars. While the data shows there have been improvements, there have also been areas in which no improvements have been made. The Comptroller and Auditor General has made the same recommendations consistently since 2000, yet there has not been any improvement in some categories.
I will start with the positives. With regard to the collection of fines, the position 13 or 14 years ago was that more than half of such offences went unpunished. The rate of collection has improved, with only 20% of fines going uncollected today. The cancellation rate for on-the-spot fines was approximately 8% in 1998, whereas the most recent report cites a rate of 5%, which indicates an improvement.
Deputy John Deasy: When it comes to the serving of summonses, for example, in 2000 there was about 44% non-serving of summonses but it has gone up to 50% on the latest date provided to us by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Will the Commissioner start with that issue? What are the reasons and why has there been a marginal increase in the non-serving of summonses from his perspective?
Mr. Martin Callinan: I suppose there are many reasons people will evade either getting a fine or conforming to whatever the sanction for that fine being imposed on them. It is the case that there is a greater population now, there is a transient community with people from both the North-South and east-west and there are data quality control issues in the context of registered owners of vehicles. The Deputy is right. Summonses are a difficulty and have been a difficulty for us for many years in terms of trying to get them served.
John Deasy: Let me be specific. I am sorry for cutting off the Commissioner. There are some other issues I need to get to. In the 2000 report the Comptroller and Auditor General made a recommendation and he made it again in 2012. The recommendation was very simple, that the Garda and the Courts Service need to work together to deal with the issues of summonses. That has not happened.
Martin Callinan: It is happening and we are engaging with the Courts Service and have been for some time on this issue.
John Deasy: Please continue.
Martin Callinan: I do not have a whole lot more to say to the Deputy. That is the case. We are working on it. I have a designated officer working with the Courts Service with a view to seeing what else we can do to improve. He has a group looking at it to see if there is anything further we can do. All I and my senior officers can do at every available opportunity we have is re-emphasise the need to ensure that summonses are served in a timely fashion. We reiterate that message quite frequently.
John Deasy: Has the Commissioner come across any evidence of deliberate non-serving of summonses by gardaí?
Martin Callinan: No.
John Deasy: Will the Commissioner explain to me how the serving of summonses is tracked right now? How is this monitored?
Mr. Martin Callinan: It is the function of every district superintendent to track the summonses that arrive to him or her for service. That is a function that should be taken very seriously. Primarily, he or she is responsible for doing that.
Deputy John Deasy: Has the Commissioner taken disciplinary action against any garda with regard to the non-serving of summonses?
Martin Callinan: No.
John Deasy: Has the Commissioner ever detected multiple non-serving of summonses by a particular garda?
Martin Callinan: To be fair, no. It is a volume issue. It is a difficult area for us and we accept it is a difficult area for us but we are working to try to reduce the level.
John Deasy: I am going to ask a question because we are going back 12 years. What can we expect with regard to that individual the Commissioner named as working on this with the Courts Service? Are we going to be here in 12 years' time with the same 50% figure? I have to ask that question because it is going on a long time and is getting worse. What can the Commissioner tell the committee to reassure us that figure is going to get better?
Martin Callinan: I think it is very clear that we are very serious about our business in terms of summonses and the courts process and we will continue to reinforce, as best we can, the need on our people to ensure that all of the summonses we get are served. This is not just unique to our own organisation, there are other organisations that suffer the same issues in terms of compliance with matters.
John Deasy: I will move to company cars and return to the recommendation made by the Comptroller and Auditor General in 2003. We are still in the same situation. I think the figure is 28%. Let me provide some background. The assurance at the time was that the Garda Síochána would contact the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and deal with the issue. That was ten years ago. Can the Commissioner say why that did not happen with the Department?
Martin Callinan: It did happen and I have already indicated to the committee. In 2004, section 19 of the Road Traffic Act was introduced but, in effect, it was found to be not effective. It is the case that one can register a vehicle in a company name. We are working very closely on the issue. There are a number of people involved in this matter because we view it so seriously. The Road Safety Authority, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Courts Service are all working together to try to address this.
John Deasy: I am sorry to stop the Commissioner again. In 2004 the legislation passed was not effective. That was ten years ago. The revenue foregone for 2011 and 2012 is more than €1 million. Since 2004, when the Commissioner identified that the legislation was ineffective, what steps did he take with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to rectify that because in those two years the State lost €1 million?
Martin Callinan: We will work with any Department we can in an effort to improve matters but we do not make the law. We implement the law as best we can.
John Deasy: It there a lacuna in the law, the Commissioner identifies that and communicates that to different Departments all the time.
Martin Callinan: With the greatest respect, Deputy, that has been well-flagged in many Departments.
John Deasy: It has been for ten years.
Martin Callinan: It has been well-flagged.
John Deasy: This figure is very low. I will start with that again. I must press the Commissioner on this. This is fairly basic stuff. There are a lot of reports, including Comptroller and Auditor General reports but in some cases there has been no movement whatsoever with regard to changing the law and putting into place the procedures and systems to actually improve the system. In some cases it has improved but in other cases there are serious lapses, organisational lapses, legislative lapses and I do not think it is fair to say it is simply a matter of law enforcement. The Commissioner has a critical role with regard to identifying gaps in the law and communicating them to a Department so it can fix them, whether it is the Department of Justice and Equality or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, but it has not been done.
Martin Callinan: With respect, it has. We are meeting those involved and are indicating the difficulties and the problems we have. On many occasions a discussion has centred around an individual's driving licence particulars being associated with a particular vehicle, for example, and maybe that might help to address the issue. In reality, what does one do with the employee who is employed by a large transport company who is driving a variety of lorries? The bottom line here is that under section 103 of the Road Traffic Act there is an obligation on either the secretary of a company or some company official to indicate who was driving the lorry.
John Deasy: They are not doing that.
Martin Callinan: Correct.
John Deasy: They are not replying-----
Martin Callinan: We have highlighted this issue many times so it is not fair to point the finger at the Garda and say it is not addressing it. We have highlighted these issues time and again and people are aware of the difficulties.
John Deasy: So the Commissioner is saying it is a lapse on the part of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to deal with this.
Martin Callinan: I am not saying it is a lapse on anybody's part. All of these people can speak for themselves. What I am indicating is where problems like this manifest themselves we interact with the various agencies that are involved in the process and we bring it to their attention.
John Deasy: I will move on to statute barred offences and, again, I go back to 2003. At the time 5,500 cases were flagged as being statute barred in a particular period. In 4,561 of these no reason was stated in the computer file. The Accounting Officer at the time told the Comptroller and Auditor General that the reason for the high number of statute barred offences was due to a backlog of offences relating to the introduction of the new penalty points system. The Accounting Officer at the time, not yourself obviously, stated that since the backlog was now clear that - I stress - the situation should not arise again. In the current report the Comptroller and Auditor General examined over 3000 offences detected in 2011 and 2012, yet it is still a problem.
There were 3,000 offences detected in 2011 and 2012. It is still a problem. It results in a huge loss of revenue from the Exchequer. I do not think we can point the finger at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or any other Department. This is basic in-putting of data. Court proceedings must be initiated within six months of the offence’s being detected. If they are not it will be statute barred. Why is this still a serious problem ten years on while the State is losing huge amounts of revenue because data is not entered?
Martin Callinan: There are a couple of aspects to this. If a member of the Garda Síochána who applies for a summons for a specific offence, whether it is a road traffic or any other matter, does not deal with that within the statutory period of six months it is statute barred. That is one aspect. The other is the notepads that we use. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report, and the O’Mahoney report, identified problems for us in that respect. We have implemented a new system whereby all of these pads, which come in batches of 20, are bar-coded and accounted for. An accounting regime has been put in place. I expect to see improvements on that aspect.
John Deasy: It is a question of individuals. Some individuals are not doing this more than others.
Martin Callinan: It is. By the way, the Deputy mentioned in his question that I cannot blame any Department. I am not in the business of blaming any Department or any other agency for sins on my side of the fence. I want to make that clear.
John Deasy: That is fine.
Martin Callinan: I am putting my hand up here about several fault-lines within the system.
John Deasy: Does Mr. Callinan understand that it is reasonable to ask the question when nothing has happened after ten years and when the figures are so bad?
Martin Callinan: That is different. I will certainly answer the question but the Deputy should please not accuse me of laying the blame on-----
John Deasy: I am not.
Martin Callinan: The Deputy mentioned it. That is a point.
John Deasy: Let us be honest about this, someone is falling down in regard to dealing with this.
Martin Callinan: If we allow a situation to occur whereby a summons becomes statute barred then it is clear that we are at fault. That is a given.
We are putting matters in place in respect of the electronic notepad system to repair that. If there are other issues to be addressed we will address them. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report it is 0.4%.
John Deasy: With regard to what I said, it comes down to individuals not in-putting the data in some cases. Does the Garda Síochána have a system to identify those people? There are repeat offenders – offenders is the wrong word - people do this repeatedly or do not do this repeatedly. Is there a way to find those people and deal with that problem? What is the system for weeding this out?
Martin Callinan: In terms of processes, all of these things should manifest themselves in the ordinary management of a district or a division. All of these things should be addressed by line management within those areas.
I hope that the notepad issue I mentioned will take care of itself through the audit trail we now have. The inspector in the district has to make a return on a monthly basis to the fixed charge notice. It is the case, when people are out on mandatory alcohol testing, MAT, checkpoints or other road traffic duties in very inclement weather, that these forms are destroyed and are mislaid. All of the human elements come into play. I am not using this as an excuse but these are issues that arise in the course of ordinary everyday business. It is up to us in management to ensure that there are sufficient checks and balances to ensure that no summons is statute barred.
John Deasy: I have picked out three examples and I will finish on this point. I have to make the observation after going through all of this information dating back to 2000, and the four reports and sets of recommendations that the Comptroller and Auditor General and his office have made over those years, in those three areas I have outlined there has not been much improvement. In some areas there has been. To be fair it has been very positive. The system in many respects is far more rigorous. There are areas where I am to an extent at a loss to figure out why the improvements are not greater. That is merely an observation.
Since the new policy was issued in August, what improvements have been made and can Mr. Callinan give us some detail on the kinds of figures, if they have improved since then, across the board, since the new policy was initiated in August?
Martin Callinan: I have already mentioned the three-tier audit system, the professional standards unit which looks at the decision-making process-----
John Deasy: May I stop Mr. Callinan and ask what they do? Mr. Callinan said that there is a statutory requirement to have that unit. When I look across all these areas I ask myself, while all of this has been going on for the past 13 years what has that unit been doing in these areas? What is its role? How often does it meet? Mr. Callinan said it is a statutory requirement to have it but how effective is that unit?
Martin Callinan: It is a unit of its own right. It is an entity in Garda headquarters. I was statutorily obliged to set it up. As the Deputy can imagine from its title it considers professional standards for the Garda Síochána. It would typically go into a district or a division and examine the processes in operation and bring back recommendations across the whole system, not just penalty points. It makes recommendations and reports to local management.
The Deputy mentioned what has been happening in trying to correct this. Apart from those three tiers, the Assistant Commissioner, the professional standards unit and the internal audit unit, there are several changes in respect of the cancelling authority and redefining its area. In other words, superintendents in the new policy are not now in a position physically to access a machine and cancel it. It has to go to the fixed charge office with the recommendation to cancel or not.
A similar tracking system is in place in respect of the notepads so that a return goes every month to the fixed charge office which is auditing. I mentioned the three units. They are some of the things that have been happening since August under the new policy arrangement. Of course if there are other recommendations from the inspectorate or the Director of Public Prosecutions we will consider them and if we can factor them into the policy we will do so.
John Deasy: On the issue of whistleblowers, Mr. Callinan will not talk about individual cases. He has made that clear and the committee has accepted that. It is fair enough but can Mr. Callinan fill me in? I have a concern about the information that it seems is now frequently given to Members of the Oireachtas and committees. In some cases it might constitute a fragment of the information around one particular case, or an alleged offence. This committee needs to be careful about how it deals with that information because it does not give the full picture. Is that Mr. Callinan’s opinion too?
Martin Callinan: That is absolutely the case. If one considers the allegations that the Assistant Commissioner has examined on behalf of all of us it is very clear that in a substantial portion of the allegations the people who complained about corruption, malpractice, cancellations of all types had very limited access to the decision-making process. They simply did not have access, to put it in a nutshell. They opened a screen in the PULSE system and looked at a snapshot of the actual event but they did not see the complete picture.
John Deasy: Will Mr. Callinan give us an idea of what else there is? What constitutes the full picture beyond the screen?
Martin Callinan: For example, if an allegation is made that a particular superintendent cancelled a particular group of tickets, it would be necessary to go to the district office and examine the audit trail, providing it is there, of course, but this has not always been the case. If the trail exists one would have to examine it to see the circumstances, to see if it has been done correctly and whether the professional judgment exercised was proper and appropriate in the circumstances. That information is not available from these screen shots; one must go behind them.
For example, when dealing with the fixed charge notice system, in some instances the juvenile diversion scheme is at issue. Once a date of birth is recorded for a driver, it will automatically go to the fixed charge office for cancellation under the juvenile diversion scheme. Therefore, there are elements which are not visible when one looks at a screen.
John Deasy: What are the Commissioner's views on how this committee is doing its business? Let us say I agree with the Commissioner and that I have a similar concern. I am not questioning anyone's bona fides – whistleblowers – but I am getting to the nub of the issue. The Commissioner is saying that in his opinion he cannot make a decision or an analysis based on a fragment of information.
Martin Callinan: Yes.
John Deasy: What are his views on how the committee has been doing its business in that case? Is he saying that it cannot possibly-----
Martin Callinan: In relation to this particular aspect?
John Deasy: -----make a correct analysis if it does not have all the information?
Martin Callinan: I do not believe it is possible; I really do not believe it is possible. Far be it from me to criticise the important work that goes on in this committee, because it is necessary and important that we are called to account, as we should be. As the accounting officer for the Garda Síochána I have a statutory function under section 26 of the Garda Síochána Act to direct and control the force. The only effective way I can do that is to have a proper disciplinary regime in place so that when people step outside I have access to sanctions.
I should preface my remarks by indicating that one of the people who is now engaged in this so-called whistleblowing exercise is a person who is a serving member of An Garda Síochána, as I understand it. If that is the case, then he or she is subject to the disciplinary regulations. It is the case that at any time, at any place, anywhere, a member of An Garda Síochána can step outside the ordinary standards expected of that member. If that is the case then I would have to consider whether I would have access to the disciplinary regulations to deal with that issue. I am not for a moment suggesting that I will go down the road of exercising discipline in this particular case but it is certainly something on which I would have to reserve my position. If I am asked in general terms whether it is appropriate for a member of An Garda Síochána to use this committee as a platform for exercising whatever it is he or she wishes to exercise and make unsubstantiated allegations or provide sensitive personal data to a third party - such as this committee - then I will have to seriously consider my position and their position. I have already indicated to the Chairman that I have very serious concerns about the information, the data, that has been passed on to the committee. I am not aware of what is contained in that data but I can only presume it from the response of the committee. I have no issue with the committee taking legal advice and deciding how best to do its business but it is the case that I have also taken advice and I am told that, as we speak, I am in breach of the Data Protection Act and that it is possible that the person who supplied that information is in breach of the Data Protection Act. This is clearly a matter on which I will need to take action. I will reserve my position with regard to how I will deal with that. If I am asked in a general sense whether I would be in favour of a member of the Garda Síochána coming in here and using this forum, this committee, to expose material in the fashion in which it has been exposed or to make allegations that have not been substantiated, I think that is fundamentally wrong.
John Deasy: The Commissioner is also making the case that it is not possible to make a comprehensive case because not all the information is available. Is that correct?
Martin Callinan: If I may put it this way, I do not know what the committee has at its disposal. Certainly, if it is anything like the level and extent of the knowledge that the Assistant Commissioner had at his disposal about the allegations made, if that mirrors what the Assistant Commissioner was dealing with, clearly it would be impossible to make a judgment. That was part of my concern which I articulated in the letter to the Chairman. For instance, if the information is anonymous and if this committee were to rely on providing statistics in a public forum, then we are in a very rocky place unless these matters can be explored and properly teased out. I have indicated to the committee that there were issues within the system that needed to be corrected, and this has been done. However, I emphasise it is very important that as a disciplined force we do not allow a situation to occur in which 13,000 members of An Garda Síochána start making complaints about one another and investigating one another. We have to exercise some form of control. It is important that as Commissioner I have control and authority over the force. How can I manage the force unless I have access to that type of control? The organisation could not perform its policing or security remits if I and my officers were not in a position to exercise that type of control.
I do not want it to be said that I am considering disciplinary action with regard to these people. I have given it very careful consideration and I will continue to do so. However, there may come a point at which I will have to seriously consider this matter for all the reasons I have indicated. I cannot allow a situation to continue where information is being bandied around. I realise people are relying on a certain section of the law as an authority.
Wrongdoing by any member of An Garda Síochána will not be tolerated by me or by any member of my officer corps. The committee can take that as a given. There is a difference between reporting wrongdoing and consistently putting about large volumes of material. These are the parameters I must consider. When I became aware of it I issued a very clear direction to the two members involved. We had a discussion with Deputy McDonald on the last occasion I was before the committee as to when I became aware of the identities of these people and what they were saying. I have carefully checked my records since then. In December, following on from the information that the retired member of the force and a serving member, a sergeant, were working together to provide information and material for an elected representative, I took advice and I was advised that this was wrong.
In light of that advice, I set about putting in place a direction to both of these individuals that if they had any problem at all or any complaint to make, the first thing they should do is to revert either to the assistant commissioner who deals with very serious allegations or any other member of the Garda Síochána. As I recall, I used the words "without prejudice to the confidential reporting mechanism," because I fully recognise and support the confidential reporting system in An Garda Síochána and elsewhere. Everybody, not just in An Garda Síochána, is entitled to be in a position to confidentially report matters of wrongdoing that come to their attention. At the same time, these individuals have a responsibility as well, and the making of allegations that cannot be substantiated on a regular basis is a particular difficulty that I may have to deal with.
Deputy John Deasy: Thank you, Commissioner.