Disclosure of minor traffic occurrence involving Wallace highly improper, says leading academic

‘It is playing politics with policing and the enforcement of the law,’ says Prof Dermot Walsh of University of Limerick

Professor Dermot Walsh Professor of Law, University of Limerick

Professor Dermot Walsh Professor of Law, University of Limerick

Fri, May 24, 2013, 08:35



Ireland’s leading legal authority on policing has contended the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner acted highly improperly in “playing politics” with the minor traffic “ticking-off” of Independent TD Mick Wallace.

Prof Dermot Walsh of the University of Limerick said that a briefing by the commissioner, Martin Callinan, to Alan Shatter about the incident – as well as the Minister’s decision to reveal it publicly – was a breach of all the constitutional protections that have built up over decades.

Prof Walsh is considered Ireland’s leading expert on the laws of policing and is the author of The Irish Police .

He said it was grossly improper of the Minister to have used the information in the way that he did, and also said it was improper for the commissioner to brief him on it in the first instance.

‘Playing politics’
“It is playing politics with policing and the enforcement of the law. It’s highly improper,” he said.

Prof Walsh asked what was the basis for the Garda Commissioner briefing the Minister for Justice about an [incident] involving an individual garda and a member of the Opposition.

“It was perfectly proper for the Garda Commissioner to brief the Minister on the operation of the penalty points system. There was no necessity and it was not proper for the Garda Commissioner to tell the Minister about a named individual.

“There is a question about whether the Garda Commissioner was playing politics.”

He queried how the information came to the commissioner’s attention in the first place. He said it was a low-level occurrence that happens hundreds of time every day.

Prof Walsh said the Garda Síochána was unusual compared to other police forces in that it was not just a civil police force but also the State security service.

“It is in the Garda code that individual gardaí are required to report on any unusual circumstances that come to their attention that might be of interest to higher authorities.

“The garda came across Mick Wallace. He was a bit of a maverick. The garda could possibly have felt that it was something that higher authorities should know about,” he said.

He said a police board was needed that acted as a filter or barrier between the Government and the police. “Otherwise you end up with this manipulation,” said Prof Walsh.

Asked on Wednesday how the Garda Commissioner came to get the information about Mr Wallace and pass it to Mr Shatter, the Garda press office said: “Communication between the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice is confidential. The Commissioner discharged his statutory functions in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005”.