Is the Garda Inspectorate report into penalty points the last word on the matter?
This week’s report has shifted responsibilty back to the Garda leadership
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has refused to apologise, admitting only that the whistleblowers “got a number of things correct”
The Government’s decision to accept all 37 recommendations of this week’s Garda Inspectorate report into the operation of the penalty points system shifted the onus of responsibility very much back towards the leadership of the 13,000-strong force.
Until this week, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter had both persisted with a narrative that the whistleblowers were a hindrance – an internal “awkward squad” within the Garda – and their complaints had disclosed minor rather than major anomalies and inconsistencies in the way gardaí operated penalty points.
However, the report by Chief Insp Robert K Olson and his colleagues contained conclusions strongly suggesting the contrary. It found there had been “consistent and widespread breaches of policy” and also found no proper training had been given, no consistent quality of management, no clear policy guidelines and huge discrepancies in how clemencies were applied.
Moreover, it was disclosed that the systemic difficulties with the operation of the penalty points system would not have come to light without the two whistleblowers – Sgt Maurice McCabe and Garda John Wilson – having come forward.
There was widespread reaction from politicians who said the whistleblowers had been vindicated and even Taoiseach Enda Kenny, speaking from Washington this weekend, praised them both.
All of that pushed the stances adopted by Shatter and Callinan – whose comments over the past years have served to belittle the whistleblowers and their allegations – into the spotlight.
In particular, much attention focused on the comments made by Callinan before the Public Accounts Committee on January 23rd in which he said he found the allegations being made by the two officers of “widespread corruption and criminality” to be “disgusting”.
This week, he made a statement purporting to clarify his use of the word, claiming it related only to the manner in which sensitive data appeared in the public domain. However, his clarification has been challenged vigorously, with the Opposition describing it as disingenuous.
True to form, Shatter has refused to apologise, admitting only that the whistleblowers “got a number of things correct”, while saying other claims had not been established.
The Garda Inspectorate’s report is not the last word on this.
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is also investigating the matter and, if the outcome of its inquiries stands up some of the allegations that have been made, it will lead to considerable pressure being brought to bear on both the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner.