Political system shocked by Callinan resignation

ANALYSIS: Despite unrelenting pressure, no Minister had called on commissioner to step aside

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has tendered his shock resignation his morning following the deepening crisis over the penalty points controversy.

Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 11:35

The resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has taken the political system by shock.

However, the Government has nobody to blame but itself for this fiasco. It ignored the whistleblower and penalty points controversy for far too long.

It is the first major calamity which Fine Gael and Labour cannot blame on Fianna Fáil and no taunts of “14 years”, as Minister for Justice Alan Shatter often goads Fianna Fáil with, will suffice.

He has to take a large portion of the blame for shunning those who wanted this issue dealt with seriously. In a way the resignation has done Mr Shatter one favour by removing the issue of a withdrawal of Mr Callinan’s “disgusting” comment.

But it now means there is no buffer protecting him, he is now isolated to a certain extent without Mr Callinan by his side.

The politics were beginning to shift from Mr Callinan to Mr Shatter already yesterday, with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore asking him to withdraw comments he made in which he claimed whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson didn’t co-operate with internal Garda inquiries.

The Coalition now needs to row in behind Mr Shatter if it wants to save his position.

The Labour Party needs to fully support the minister, if it wants him to stay put, yet it has already placed Mr Shatter in a bind.

Mr Gilmore’s request for Mr Shatter to withdraw his own whistleblower comments was met with the usual defiance from the Department of Justice.

Mr Shatter was not minded to grant Mr Gilmore’s request but something has got to give to stop this situation getting out of control, which is in danger of happening.

Undoubtedly, this is the biggest crisis the Coalition has faced since assuming office.

Cabinet ministers arrived in Government Buildings and Leinster House for their first meeting back after the St Patrick’s Day break expecting to find a form of words which would allow Mr Callinan withdraw his remarks in which he called the whistleblowers “disgusting”.

Despite the unrelenting pressure on Mr Callinan in recent weeks - reaching its peak as Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar and the Labour Party called on him to withdraw the remarks - nobody in Government had called on Mr Callinan to step aside.

Indeed, Mr Varadkar said he had confidence in Mr Callinan, but said he was not above criticism.

However, the reality is Mr Callinan became the fault line in the biggest Coalition split since Fine Gael and Labour took office.

No senior servant of the State in a non-political office wants to find themselves in that position.

Given the noises emerging from Garda HQ in recent days, it would seem this is the primary reason Mr Callinan stepped aside.

The damage has spread all the way to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whose authority has taken a hit, and he has to now heal his divided Cabinet. He must do it quickly before this crisis spirals even further out of control.

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