Callinan steered into political spotlight again by Varadkar

Minister’s remarks are not a surprise, but consistent with his long-held views

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is riding out the criticism for now. Photograph: Alan Betson

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is riding out the criticism for now. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:00

While Leo Varadkar has earned a reputation for making controversial remarks, his statement yesterday about Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the penalty points affair shouldn’t really have come like a bolt from the blue.

After all, he is the Minister with responsibility for road safety, and officials from his department met Sgt Maurice McCabe as far back as 2012 and found him to be credible.

Varadkar himself met McCabe last May and also found him to be credible, and took his allegations seriously.

Recent correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act also illustrated the concerns he had about how the issue was being handled.

The Irish Times also understands Varadkar attempted to raise a number of concerns with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter in recent weeks on a number of road safety issues, as well as Callinan’s recent appearance at the Public Accounts Committee and the Garda Inspectorate report on the penalty points controversy.

However, his comments yesterday have now put an issue which seemed to be slipping down the political agenda firmly back centrestage, and placed Callinan in the political spotlight.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton backed up Varadkar, and was said to be reflecting a general Labour Party view, but perhaps not that of Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny declined to get involved yesterday, and sidestepped the affair on his way into a European summit in Brussels.

Callinan is riding out the criticism for now, with no indication he will withdraw the comments he made at the Public Accounts Committee.

A concerned member of the force is allowed go to Oireachtas members if they have exhausted all avenues open to them.


One complaint
Garda sources said only one complaint was made about a superintendent who allegedly quashed points on four separate occasions. The argument is that one complaint is fair game if McCabe or Wilson wanted to then bring that to TDs or Senators, but they had not exhausted all avenues available to them with the other incidents.

Perhaps that argument has long since been lost. Varadkar didn’t buy it yesterday, and said the whistleblowers were fully entitled to do what they did. While Kenny didn’t get involved, there is a growing political reality that Callinan will have to make some sort of gesture to the whistleblowers.

If Gilmore publicly says what is the widely held position within his party, then Callinan might not be able to dig his heels in any longer.

When asked about Varadkar’s comments, another Minister yesterday remarked: “Well, that’s Leo’s way of telling us he’s back off his holidays.”

He seems to have used a megaphone to do so.