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…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty