Labour piles pressure on Callinan over comments

Pat Rabbitte says it would be helpful if Garda Commissioner brought saga to a conclusion

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 15:31

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is the latest - and most senior - minister to call on Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw his remarks in which he described the actions of whistleblowers as “disgusting”.

While Mr Gilmore has cancelled scheduled media appearances because of an illness, his spokeswoman said he shared the views of Leo Varadkar and Joan Burton, who called for the comments to be withdrawn.

“The Labour Party view was outlined by Joan Burton and that view is shared by Eamon Gilmore,” the spokeswoman said.

Callinan before PAC

However, Mr Gilmore still has confidence in Commissioner Callinan, the spokeswoman added. She also insisted the latest statement does not mean the Tánaiste has changed his position.

Mr Callinan was speaking at the Public Accounts Committee on January 24th when he made the remarks in realtion to the whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and retired Garda John Wilson, who first highlighted the issue of penalty points being cancelled. Mr Callinan said: “Quite clearly here, we have two people out of a force of over 13,000 who are making extraordinary, serious allegations and there isn’t a whisper anywhere else, from any other member of the Garda Síochána about this corruption, this malpractice and all of those things that are levelled against their fellow officers. Frankly I think it is quite disgusting, on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting.”

Labour sources ahve indicated the party will not be pushing for a withdrawal from Mr Callinan but will let the comments of Ms Burton and Mr Gilmore sit.

Speaking this lunchtime, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said he also believed Mr Callinan should withdraw the remarks.

Mr Rabbitte said it would close off the controversy which had re-ignited in recent days.

“It would be a great pity if we couldn’t bring the controversial aspects of the saga to conclusion and from that point of view I think it would be helpful if the Garda Commissioner facilitated that,” Mr Rabbitte told RTÉ’s News at One.

He said Mr Callinan is a “decent and honourable man” while adding: “I think the Garda Commissioner could bring it to a conclusion and I would hope that he will.

“It would be better if the heat were taken out of it rather than people digging in their heels.”

Mr Rabbitte said the penalty points controversy had already achieved some good outcomes, such as giving the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) more powers, as well as abolishing the position of the confidential recipient in the force.

He also claimed Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was “probably badly advised” when he said whistleblowers Sgt Maurice McCabe and John Wilson failed to co-operate with internal Garda inquiries into the penalty points affair.

However, he declined to say if Mr Shatter should withdraw the comments.

“I can’t find the basis for understanding how it is that it can be stated that the men didn’t co-operate with the inquiry. It seems to me they didn’t have the opportunity.”

The Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes backed Mr Callinan in his criticism of two garda whistleblowers who accessed confidential information on the cancellation of penalty points.

Mr Hawkes told RTÉ Radio Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson had a “moral duty” to report wrongdoing but there should not have been “continued access” and disclosure of data from the Garda Pulse system after they had alerted the authorities .

Ms Burton, the Minister for Social Protection, last night called on the Garda Commissioner to withdraw his comments describing the actions of Sgt McCabe and Mr 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 that Ms Burton was “reflecting the generally held view” within the party.

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”.

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.

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.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has previously defended the Garda Commissioner over his role in the whistleblower affair.