Question of why gardaí had no faith in procedures hangs in air

Age-old dilemma of who will police the police remains a vital one

 Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan strongly criticised the behaviour of what he called two “so-called whistleblowers”. Photograph: David Sleator

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan strongly criticised the behaviour of what he called two “so-called whistleblowers”. Photograph: David Sleator


Is the Public Accounts Committee the correct forum for airing allegations about corruption within the Garda Síochána?

That’s the question that hung in the air yesterday as Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan strongly criticised the behaviour of what he called two “so-called whistleblowers” over the widespread cancellation of penalty points.

The commissioner’s view was clear. There were internal procedures for making complaints, and it was “disgusting” to bring allegations before a committee primarily involved with examining “revenue streams”.

Not only that, he also said it would be “impossible” for the committee to make a judgement on allegations of corruption based on the documentation supplied to it. The two whistleblowers, former garda John Wilson and a serving sergeant Maurice McCabe, had supplied the committee with data from the Pulse computer system showing trends in cancellations.

Internal investigation
But the commissioner said you could only understand why cancellations took place by looking behind the “screenshots”, and following the paperwork. It had taken six superintendents and 28 dedicated members of the Garda to do this as part of its own internal investigation. “I don’t believe it’s possible” for the committee to “see the full picture”, he said.

The commissioner has a point, and he may well marshal other such points in an effort to stop either of the two whistleblowers giving evidence next Thursday.

But then he might also pause to think why exactly have we reached this juncture. The controversy surrounding the penalty points system would never have entered the public domain if it wasn’t for the two whistleblowers.

While the Comptroller and Auditor General had raised concerns about the non-collection of fixed penalty fines in three successive reports, it took the action of the two officers to highlight certain failings.

Commissioner Callinan stressed the need to maintain discipline in the force and said he should not be “usurped by subordinates”, and again this is an understandable sentiment.

However, it should be of concern to the Garda that two members would find it necessary to go outside the force to air their concerns.

Under existing rules, gardaí can only make complaints internally to a senior officer, albeit in confidence. Whether this is sufficient to encourage officers to come forward to report any allegation of wrongdoing against a fellow garda is debatable.

The Garda Síochána has not done itself any favours by the manner in which it has engaged with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), the primary agency for external oversight. Last year, the GSOC cited an “unacceptable” level of co-operation in its inquiries.

It is ironic, therefore, that the commissioner has chosen to take action against Wilson – in a written complaint this week to the GSOC about him.

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