The Garda Commissioner has publicly apologised to domestic violence victims who made emergency calls for help but did not receive the standard of service from gardaí that they required and to which they were entitled.
Drew Harris was addressing the Policing Authority after a garda inquiry into how 999 calls were dealt with found that more than 600 emergency calls in 2019 and 2020 were cancelled before there was an appropriate policing response.
The inquiry, which is ongoing, is examining more than 3,000 cancelled 999 calls to gardaí about domestic violence, missing persons or health issues.
More than 300 victims whose calls were not properly handled have so far been contacted, but gardaí said so far no adverse consequences have been identified.
The investigation began when gardaí discovered that 999 emergency calls about domestic violence, missing persons and health concerns had been cancelled before there was a proper policing response.
They were also not recorded on the Garda's PULSE computer system and therefore there was no follow up as is the garda policy on domestic violence.
The investigation has identified 3,120 cancelled emergency calls, 1,092 of which were validly cancelled.
Legitimate reasons for cancellation include multiple calls in relation to the same instance when only one response was required, calls that were more suitable for other emergency services, such as the fire service or coastal rescue, and silent calls.
There were 1,404 calls sent to the garda divisions for detailed scrutiny, but gardaí have already established a problem in 624 cases.
Gardaí say they are still working to establish the exact extent of the issue.
Today, the Garda Commissioner said gardaí did not provide the standard of service to victims of domestic abuse that is required and he apologised to them.
Mr Harris described them at the Policing Authority meeting this afternoon as "among the most vulnerable people in society".
He said that when some of them called for garda help "they did not always receive the service they are entitled to expect".
Reported cases of and criminal proceedings in relation to domestic violence have increased significantly.
More than 4000 criminal charges were preferred for breaches of domestic abuse court orders last year, an increase of 25%, while criminal charges for crimes involving an element of domestic abuse were up 24%.
The force's Computer Aided Dispatch System (CAD), which deals with 999 calls, is more than 30 years old and is due to be replaced next year.
The inquiry has established that the problems were caused not just by technological and procedural failures, but also by individual gardaí not adhering to procedures and policies.
Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, Mr Harris said gardaí will be going back to victims to address the failures in emergency call procedures and to ensure that these failures cannot happen again.
He said he had listened to recordings of calls, some of which were harrowing, but gardaí had not followed through on all procedures and policies to ensure people were properly protected.
The Commissioner said these failures had been discovered last October, there had been a management response throughout November and the Policing Authority had been informed in December. However, he said the full extent of the failures were not known at that point.
Mr Harris said that 55,000 domestic abuse incidents had to be distilled from more than 1.4 million incidents and there had been a huge amount of work involved in trying to understand what precisely had happened in each case and working through to see how it had been handled and terminated.
The Commissioner said it had only been in recent weeks that the details disclosed today had become apparent and available to him.
Asked if he should resign, Mr Harris said he did not believe that his resignation would resolve this issue. He said the gardaí had a grip on what the problem was and knew what must be done.
The Commissioner said that work is under way and it will be resolved and that this was not going to happen again.
'Trust has been undermined in An Garda Síochána here - it happened on your watch - should you resign?'— RTÉ News (@rtenews) June 24, 2021
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris tells RTÉ's Six One News 'I don't believe that my resignation will resolve this ... this is not going to happen again' https://t.co/QZ9dLmGfKD pic.twitter.com/85fljlM4T1
'A very serious issue' - Humphreys
Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys has said that any inappropriate cancellation of 999 calls was "a very serious issue".
"I am particularly concerned that anyone experiencing domestic abuse, and indeed anyone in a vulnerable position, who gathered up the courage to make that 999 call to look for assistance, and then they didn't get it," Ms Humphreys said.
"I know the [Garda] Commissioner has apologised to these victims and I just want to welcome that fact," Ms Humphreys added.
Speaking in Dublin Castle at a press conference following the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, she said that Mr Harris had assured her that "when someone calls 999 now they can expect and trust that the Garda Síochána will help".
Ms Humphreys added that the Garda Commissioner had put new processes in place to ensure the inappropriate cancellation of calls does not happen again.
The minister said that the issue was being examined by the Policing Authority, which she described as a "robust, independent oversight structure in our policing system".
'Any inappropriate cancellation of 999 calls is a very serious issue', Minister for Justice @HHumphreysFG says, adding that the Garda Commissioner 'assured me that when someone calls 999 now they can expect and trust that the Garda Síochána will help' | https://t.co/L1k8nHrc9a pic.twitter.com/IgXPDLcAie— RTÉ News (@rtenews) June 24, 2021
Garda engagement in inquiry 'unsatisfactory'
The Policing Authority has expressed its "deep dissatisfaction" and "significant concern" with the responses it received from An Garda Síochána in relation to the cancellation of 999 emergency calls.
Chairman Bob Collins has described as "unsatisfactory" the level of engagement on the matter and accused senior gardaí of not providing available information to the Authority
The authority will also seek more information on the type of people who made the calls at this afternoon's meeting.
The Policing Authority has published the minutes of its last meeting three weeks ago in relation to the garda investigation into the cancellation of the 999 calls.
The authority expressed its "deep dissatisfaction and significant concern" in relation to the nature of the information provided to it, the garda response to clarifications sought and the unsatisfactory level of engagement
Members noted the responses were not thorough and critical questions were not addressed.
Mr Collins expressed his own and the authority's acute disappointment and intense frustration that information in the possession of and immediately available to gardaí had not been and was not being provided to the authority.
He also said it was not acceptable that the extent to which issues of domestic violence were involved in cancelled calls had not been conveyed to the authority until April, even though it had been recognised six months earlier.
The internal garda inquiry into how gardaí dealt with domestic violence calls in 2020 and 2019 was set up when a victim of domestic violence raised concerns.
Led by Assistant Commissioner Barry O'Brien, the inquiry examined around 3,000 Priority 1 or 999 calls to see why they had been marked cancelled on the garda system.
The Executive Director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland said it is critical that there is an appropriate garda response to victims of domestic violence when they call.
Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Cliona Sadlier said a big part of An Garda Síochána's responsibility is making a good referral, because they may well be the first point of contact.
She said every call is vital and it is important to remember that most people will make a number of calls.
"We need to understand the specifics of the problem and what we need to do to fix it, because trust is absolutely critical and central," she said.
Ms Sadlier said gardaí proactively prioritised sexual and domestic violence during the pandemic and actively engaged with people they knew to be at risk, which she said was very positive and something to be encouraged.