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The Point is Policing not Penalties – comment

Gardai Traffic Corps

It is apparent in the commentary surrounding the annulling of penalty points that some of the arguments being put forward are missing the point of why this system was introduced in the first place. With all due respect to the two whistleblowers involved (one serving and one retired member of an Garda Síochána), the nub of this whole debate revolves around the very essence of policing by consent. And it saddens those of us now retired from the force to see this principle being used as a financial club to stoke annoyance amongst the public on the matter and undermines what can be a very powerful tool to encourage responsible driving and thereby achieve policing by consent.

Policing by consent is the basic tenet on which all Garda recruits are told that they can carry out their police work ‘without fear or favour, malice or ill-will’. This hasn’t changed since the foundation of the state. It is on the application of this basic policing creed which they achieve over a period their authority as a police officer within the community they serve.But this authority with its roots in the acceptance of the rule of law by a civil society does come up against situations in which discretion is required and it is the mark of the character of the officer if they can achieve a fair and balance outcome depending on how seriously the law has been transgressed.

A dozen people parking their cars on a double yellow line while attending mass of a Sunday morning would hardly be seen as social deviants and therefore discretion would be advised in this instance – although a word to the cleric to make a mention about parking responsibly for safety etc – would have the desired effect.Fines for speeding, talking on your mobile and not wearing a seatbelt are not there to generate revenue for a hard up government and should never be considered as such.
Lest we forget it is not so long ago that we were looking at shocking figures for road deaths on our roads due to lack of care while driving and various other factors such as speed and drink. Penalty points along with various enforcement campaigns were introduced to encourage responsible driving and not to generate revenue. To make this assertion is to set a dangerous precedent and undermines the very reason they were brought in the first place. It is not acceptable that this issue can be used to say that we have lost out on so many squad cars, garda equipment etc because of the revenue lost due to quashed penalty points.

What we are failing to grasp here is the unalterable fact that anything that encourages the safety and well being of road users on Irish roads is to be supported across society as a necessary basic requirement of anyone who gets behind a steering wheel. This needs to be their mindset from the outset of the smallest journey – not ‘how can I avoid the guards trying to catch me out’. Nor can we say that pointing a speed camera from behind a bus stop in an area of a low speed limit is proper policing method. We need to look to some innovative international practises that capture the average speed within a certain defined distance rather than snaring mostly law-abiding citizens within a short timeframe of their overall journey.

It has taken us a long time to achieve the point we are at now as a nation in respect of drinking and driving. To the vast majority of road users, drinking while driving today is anathema and seriously frowned upon and rejected by anyone who becomes aware of it. We must now try and achieve this attitude adjustment on the topic of speeding and driving while using a mobile phone amongst others driving misdeeds. Any claims being made that penalty points quashed are lost revenue to the force undermines the authority of penalty points system to achieve this adjustment, denigrates the whole policing by consent principle and takes us down a dangerous road in respect of public safety.

This topic needs to be addressed through the wider policing lens where the cooperation of the community, the acceptance of the people of the authority of An Garda Síochána and how it enforces the law is paramount to maintaining a civil society and quite possibly may point to a new framework for how policing modern Ireland can be achieved. No doubt there are further revelations ahead and it will not reflect well on the force but it must not come at the expense of an instrument that is fundamental to achieving public safety. Of course mistakes have been made and of course people will feel aggrieved at the revelations but we should not have our respect for the instruments the Gardaí use coloured by fanciful claims on revenue lost.


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