Between a rock and a hard place it is the Garda Commissioner who resigns…

So whilst the government was having a big fat argument over whether the Minister for Justice should apologise (or not) for calling the behaviour of Garda whistleblowers disgusting, Martin Callanan has taken the matter into his own hands and resigned.

It’s been a long haul since independent TD Mick Wallace first raised the matter in the Dail. It took several interventions on the floor of the house from Micheal Martin before a response was forthcoming from the Taoiseach.

The buck then passed to the press and in particular the persistence of journalists like Mick Clifford of the Irish Examiner and who simply would not let go.

In latter days, confusion had broken out within government with the Taoiseach hoarse-whispering to his cabinet troops (Leo Varadkar and the whole Labour contingent) to ‘houl their wheist’ on the matter and he would sort it out in private.

Now they’ve all had it taken out of their hands and the opposition is baying for blood… Sinn Fein’s likely candidate in the upcoming West Dublin byelection Paul Donnelly wasted no time reminding his followers of the taoiseach’s recent backing for Callanan:

And Fianna Fail’s Justice spokesman Niall Collins has had this to say:

“There will be some in Government who will hope that Commissioner Callinan’s resignation draws a line under the crisis. They are wrong. The Commissioner’s resignation actually throws into even sharper relief the abject failure of Alan Shatter to be accountable for the way in which he deliberately undermined the credibility of the whistleblowers and misled the public about their activities.

“It is important to acknowledge that Martin Callinan has had a very distinguished career as a member of An Garda Síochána and the country owes him a debt of gratitude for a lifetime of service.

“The Minister’s continued refusal to acknowledge he was wrong and apologise to the whistleblowers dishonours that service and the service of loyal gardaí all across the country.”

It should be said that the regular voter fragmentation which the STV-PR system gives rise to means that this ‘every-man-for-himself’ motif has rarely been overridden in government without the use of overwhelming centripetal force by the executive.

As Mick Clifford noted last Saturday, it’s neither new nor particular to Fine Gael:

Now, however, he is faced with a really tough political decision. Leo Varadkar’s call for garda commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw his “disgusting” remarks about the two garda whistleblowers has opened a can of worms. Here, at last, is one way in which the current government does differ from its predecessor.

No Fianna Fáil minister in the last government would have broken ranks in this manner. Quite the opposite. The former TD, Jim Glennon, has spoken publicly about how, at the height of Ahern’s tribunal woes, Glennon raised the issue in a parliamentary party meeting, saying that the whole country was talking about it.

Glennon said that his observation was met with silence.

Until last Thursday, most within the Government were similarly willing to lodge their heads in the sand over the now discredited positions of both Commissioner Callinan and Alan Shatter, in relation to the whistleblowers.

Both men had been hostile to Sergeant Maurice McCabe and retired garda John Wilson. Both men attempted to blacken the whistleblowers’ characters in Oireachtas hearings; Callinan at the Public Accounts Committee, and Shatter in the Dail, when he said the whistleblowers had failed to co-operate with the garda inquiry into the penalty points affair.

Neither the commissioner nor the minister had offered any protection to two gardaí whose actions Varadkar has hailed as “distinguished”.

Now that the truth has been laid bare, Shatter and Callinan are between rock and hard place.

Now at least we know which of them cracked first…

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  • cynic2

    Political interference in prosecutions in Ireland is a long tradition Wasn’t it Haughey who secured a Pardon for his Election Agent for licensing offences then banished to the depths of Connaught Garda who dared enforce the law. Besides some the crimes absolved spreeding is small beer

    I think that the Commission at least leaves with some dignity. What about all the Politicians who should to cover up? What about the Justice Minister? And all those TDs who undoubtedly contacted the local Superintendents to plead the cases of those caught speeding ? Will they now be exposed and go?

    Dail Eireann might soon look a tad threadbare

    Still, citizens of Ireland can take comfort. In the North we have had something similar done for cases like murder

  • cynic2

    Fascinating …just what / who was bugged and why

  • sherdy

    Niall Collins says it is important to recognise that Martin Callinan has had a very distinguished career. Because he wasn’t caught on or exposed until now?

    Cynic, you think he leaves with some dignity. I would suggest that he left ensuring that he took his generous pension with him.

    Well, okay, maybe I’m a bit of a cynic myself.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Can someone do a precis of this for those of us who can’t get our heads around what is going on ?

    Apparently the Garda Commissioner resigned specifically over the relevation that calls into police stations have been recorded since the 1980s. Exactly what is the significance of this and why is it a resigning issue ? Michael Noonan has said that “certain recordings relating to certain cases” are highly significant – what cases is he referring to ?

  • Mick Fealty

    Given the way this story is fragmenting, this could be above my pay grade. But the issue is that the Minister got too close to the Garda Commissioner.

    Strike one: Mick Wallace, then part of a campaign to out a misuse of Garda regulations by the widespread rescinding of licence points was outed by the Minister live on TV as having had points rescinded himself. [Ouch] Minister says he was told by Commissioner in conversation. Story eventually goes away.

    Strike two: Whistleblower Garda Sergeant McCabe records a conversation with the confidential receiver of Garda complaints (an office independent of AGS) in which said receiver tells GS McCabe that the Minister will come after him if the complaint is leaked to the media. Oliver Connolly resigns.

    Strike three: The Garda Siochana Ombudsman’s Commission (GSOC) suspect they’ve been victims of surveillance back in Sept I think, and call in a specialist firm from England who find three irregularities, but no conclusive evidence there’s been bugging. GSOC do not report either to the Minister or the Commission. There is no one else they can report to, so strong suspicion that relationships have broken down.

    Strike four: (and one of two things that broke the camel’s back) was the use of the word ‘disgusting used by the Commissioner to describe the whistleblower’s alleged refusal to co-operate with him in a Dail committee. An allegation that goes unsubstantiated. And this remained relatively inert until Leo Varadkar was asked about it and insisted that the Commissioner should withdraw those remarks.

    Strike five, the beginning of the end was really when Micheal Martin lathered the Taoiseach for three weeks in a row at Leaders questions, culminating in him presenting a dossier of cases including one with possible implications in a murder case where there was prima facie case to answer for Garda incompetence.

    Two resignations and SF and far less vociferously FF are calling for the minister’s head. Labour back benchers have fallen somewhat shorter than. There is all manner of detail starting to tumble out this evening which I’ve not kept up with. But in respect of the penalty points issue there has been one report by the oversight body which suggests that policy has just not been implemented.

    Government also released some details concerning the recording of calls into certain Guard stations. But again, I’ve yet to really drill down into the content there.

  • Harry Flashman

    Thanks Mick, like CS I have been a bit bewildered by this whole scandal.

    The news that taping Gardai phones was common practice for years must surely be a bombshell, there will be many hearings at the appeal courts to have convictions overturned methinks.

    By the way lest anyone believe the original part of the scandal, getting let off traffic offences by friendly cops was confined to the Gardai it wasn’t. I have personal recollection of the RUC doing precisely the same thing back in the day.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Time for a few choruses of ‘Disband the AGS, Disband the AGS’.

    What about the PSSI – Police Service of Southern Ireland? 😉

  • sherdy

    Mick, – You say that Mick Wallace had penalty points rescinded, but he claims that he never actually got points nor was even interviewed for using his phone while driving.

    I thought Callinan’s use of the word ‘disgusting’ referred to what he perceived as the whistleblowers’ disloyalty to the force by their actions, rather the (apparently false) allegation by Shatter that the two men had failed to co-operate with investigations.

    Callinan’s resignation, in my opinion, has more to do with the phone tapping scandal which had been going on for years under his watch, and to secure his very generous pension – cynic that I am.

  • zep

    ‘Apparently the Garda Commissioner resigned specifically over the relevation that calls into police stations have been recorded since the 1980s. Exactly what is the significance of this and why is it a resigning issue ?’

    Surely – breach of confidentiality between legal reps and clients, for starters? Also, isn’t it illegal to record a telephone call without the consent of the other person, outwith some law enforcement circumstances?

    I stand to be corrected on that as I am not a legal eagle.