Move along, there’s nothing to see here, says Garda Commissioner
Martin Callinan engaged in what Shane Ross described as ‘the dialogue of the deaf’ at the Public Accounts Committee hearing on penalty points
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan leads a group of colleagues into Leinster House for the Public Accounts Committee meeting yesterday. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
Before the most powerful committee of the national parliament, the Garda Commissioner stood his ground and all but told the representatives of the people to keep their noses out of police business.
“My force. My officers,” he said, at one point.
Martin Callinan was correct, in as much as he is the commander of the force. But it is not his force. They are not his officers. It is our force. They are our officers.
Which is why his evidence to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee yesterday was so troubling. He finds the actions of “so-called whistleblowers” who chose to take their grievances outside the blue brotherhood nothing short of “disgusting”.
There is nothing, it seems, that cannot be sorted within the confidential confines of the organisation. There is a system in place. Whistleblowers should use it. To do otherwise, to step outside “the system” is a step too far.
The commissioner conjured up the sort of appalling vista which could unfold if so-called whistleblowing caught on in the force.
“We can’t have a situation where 13,000 members can start making complaints against each other,” he told the PAC members. The view of the top brass, it seems, is to keep those whistles for nothing more than a bit of refereeing at weekends.
The meeting was investigating the alleged wiping of penalty points by some members of the force for favoured individuals. The committee has boxes of information that came from two whistleblowers.
But the country’s top lawman appeared not to understand the nature of this whistleblowing lark in large organisations.
“Isn’t it extraordinary that it’s just two people that are making huge allegations,” he mused aloud. “Why isn’t it dozens? Hundreds?”
Everybody else in the room probably knew the answer. But not the commissioner. So Shane Ross patiently
explained the obvious.
“People who make these allegations are always very rare because they are fearful of their positions.” (It’s also why there are regular discussions in the Dáil and Seanad about the need to protect whistleblowers).
Some of them, to be sure, are making vexatious or mischievous complaints. Others though – for a variety of reasons – are doing a very valuable public service, if their information stacks up.
As the committee went about it work, deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace sat in the back row of the public gallery. They have been making all the running on the penalty points issue, and judging by their reaction to what they were hearing, they didn’t think much of it.
Meanwhile, commissioner Callinan wanted to make it very clear that he wasn’t there to “circle the wagons,” while stressing that any retired or serving officer who takes the “disgusting” decision to go outside the circle would likely face disciplinary proceedings.
Any garda contemplating such an action now will not have been comforted by what the boss had to say. “I cannot be usurped by subordinates” who decided to use the PAC as a platform, he declared.
There are people in the force called “confidential recipients” who are there to listen to them. There are a number of avenues open to these people who want to highlight the action of the few who would tarnish the excellent reputation of the hard- working and courageous many.Why didn’t they follow the process, he wondered.
“They did! They did!” hissed Daly and Wallace.
And what if they have no confidence in the process, for whatever reason, Ross wondered. It happens.
Clearly, this was something beyond the commissioner’s contemplation. He had told the politicians their committee was not the place to be “discussing matters of such importance” as Garda misconduct.
Because it should be discussed with him, as “accounting officer,” said Martin Callinan.
“I think you should be the last person this is discussed with,” came the reply.
They agreed to disagree.
At all stages, the senior Garda said he was primarily concerned with the protection of the force. His door was always open to people with issues to discuss.
When Mary Lou McDonald asked if he knew why a number of senior officers might have quashed penalties, the Commissioner said there are all sorts of reasons why they might “stand outside the process” but couldn’t say, as he isn’t a mind reader.
“I would consider that even outside your pay grade,” agreed McDonald.
“Which isn’t an awful lot, deputy,” joked Callinan, which shows a salary of €188,000 doesn’t debar one from having a sense of humour.
She understood his aim is to ensure that the good names of his officers are not sullied by untested allegations. But nor could the committee allow themselves to be used as a platform to “cast a black mark” against the good names of people
willing to speak out.
Chairman John McGuinness said it was the committee’s intention to hear what the whistleblowers have to say. There were specific questions to be asked.
The commissioner said he should be the one to answer them. He said there is no evidence to support the allegations and may have to take the court route if the whistleblowers are called.
The chairman’s assurance that all names and private information would be redacted this cut no ice with Martin Callinan.