Exit of Callinan from public life does not change tough times ahead for Garda

Former commissioner was headstrong and damaged by association with Shatter

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan: One of the brightest and best, he enjoyed a distinguished career before being dragged deeper into a controversy that slowly but surely gobbled him up. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan: One of the brightest and best, he enjoyed a distinguished career before being dragged deeper into a controversy that slowly but surely gobbled him up. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Wed, Mar 26, 2014, 11:20

The departure from office of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is simply the latest controversial event to grip the force in recent times.

Far from his exit bringing any of the Garda’s difficulties to a close, his no-warning retirement has prompted reflection on the myriad problems that remain in his wake.

The termination of penalty points by gardaí is now the subject of a major investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC). The relationship between the Garda watchdog and the force is at an all-time low.

The recording of telephone conversations at Garda stations for decades is now being examined by a commission of investigation. Separately, the Government is to undertake a major review of Garda oversight. An independent Garda authority is also in the offing.

And to top it all, the Government seems committed to advertising externally to fill the post of Garda Commissioner.

The winds of change are whipping up in a manner not seen since the first Morris tribunal reports of nearly 10 years ago.

Any analysis of Martin Callinan’s four decades as a Garda officer would be deeply unfair without noting he was one of the brightest and best.

He enjoyed a very distinguished career before being dragged deeper and deeper into a controversy that slowly but surely gobbled him up.

Much has been made of the closeness between Callinan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

The difficulty for Callinan was that Shatter is largely disliked by Garda members. Many blame him for the fact that overtime budgets have been cut back to nothing, Garda stations have been closed and manpower has continued to fall.

Unpopular things Shatter was responsible for were in some quarters unfairly blamed on Callinan, as if they were inseparable.

When, for example, the Minister decided to close more than 100 Garda stations, he asked Callinan to have a list drawn up of those stations that might close first. He then continually referred to the stations as having been recommended for closure by the commissioner.

Too close for comfort
Some doubted whether Callinan could be forceful with the Government on the need for more Garda resources when he was so close to the Minister delivering those cuts.

Both men are alike in preferring the last word on matters and neither is inclined to let things go.

It is perhaps Callinan’s headstrong streak that resulted in his rhetoric at the Public Accounts Committee where he referred to the actions of the Garda whistleblowers as “disgusting”.

He was also unwilling to find a formula of words to withdraw the word “disgusting” but stood by his central argument: that the whistleblowers were wrong to access and distribute citizens’ personal data.