Burton increases pressure on Callinan over remarks

Minister joins Varadkar call on Garda Commissioner to withdraw comments

 Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton: Pushed the Labour proposal for an independent Garda authority to oversee the force. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton: Pushed the Labour proposal for an independent Garda authority to oversee the force. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:00


Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has joined calls for Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw comments he made describing the actions of whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and John Wilson as “disgusting”.

She also pushed the Labour proposal for an independent Garda authority to oversee the 13,000-strong force. Some party TDs and Senators have already proposed this idea, backed by the Labour leadership, but Ms Burton is the first Minister to voice her public support.

In a sign of the increasing political pressure on Mr Callinan, a Labour spokesman said last night Ms Burton was “reflecting the generally held view” within the party on the Garda Commissioner’s comments but would not say if Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore agreed with his deputy leader.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar yesterday put the focus back on Mr Callinan by calling on him to withdraw the remarks, while also pointedly describing the actions of Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson as “distinguished”.


Statement
A Garda statement reiterated that Mr Callinan had used the word “disgusting” in reference to “the manner in which personal and sensitive data was inappropriately appearing in the public domain without regard to due process and fair procedures” rather than “the character of either Sgt McCabe or former Garda Wilson”.

Sources last night said this remained the commissioner’s position and he would not be withdrawing the remarks.

However, speaking to The Irish Times in Washington, Ms Burton called on him to do so. “I think it would be helpful if he did, quite frankly,” she said.

She said there was “very strong merit” in looking again at an independent police authority and that such a body had worked well in other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland.

“We have learned in recent times that we want a first-class Garda force that is independently managed by the Garda Commissioner and that is strongly independent and carries out its duties without fear or favour,” she said.


Recommendations
Taoiseach Enda Kenny declined to be drawn on Mr Varadkar’s comments of the whistleblower controversy. Mr Kenny was speaking in Brussels, where he is attending an EU summit.

“We’ve been over this ground on many occasions,” Mr Kenny said, adding that the 37 recommendations from the Garda Inspectorate into the penalty points system are being implemented in full.

“What you need here is a system here that is transparent, that is accountable, that is oversighted, that is fair and that removes any semblance of interference from any quarter.”