Tánaiste calls on Shatter to withdraw whistleblower claim

Gilmore denies Cabinet is in disarray but says Minister for Justice should retract remarks about John McCabe

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: under pressure from some Cabinet colleagues. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter: under pressure from some Cabinet colleagues. Photograph: Eric Luke

Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 01:00

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said Minister for Justice Alan Shatter should withdraw his claim in the Dáil that Garda whistleblowers did not co-operate with an internal inquiry into the penalty points affair.

Mr Gilmore’s remarks yesterday morning came amid tension in the Cabinet over claims Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan should apologise for describing the whistleblowers’ actions as “disgusting”.

The Tánaiste denied the Cabinet was in disarray over the matter, saying it was always the case there would be differing views within Government on certain topics. The matter will be discussed when the Cabinet meets today.

Although Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said Ministers should not discuss their views on the matter outside Cabinet , Mr Gilmore said answers had to be given when questions were in the public domain.

‘Public domain’

“I think it’s always preferable that issues are discussed in Cabinet and I expect that this issue will be discussed in Cabinet, but, of course, when issues are in the public domain and people like yourself

. . . ask questions about them, we’re expected to give answers,” he said.

While the political focus in recent days has been on Mr Callinan, the Tánaiste’s remarks yesterday bring fresh attention to Mr Shatter’s stance.

The Minister for Justice had said there was “fault on both sides” when whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe was not interviewed in a Garda inquiry into penalty point cancellations but said he could see how Sgt McCabe could be described as co-operating with the inquiry.

Mr Gilmore said Mr Shatter had handled the controversy well. When asked, however, whether the Minister should withdraw his Dáil assertion about the lack of co-operation, the Tánaiste made the same point he had made in relation to Mr Callinan.

“As I’ve said, I think there are always phrases that are used and comments that are made and I think it’s always best they’re cleared up as quickly as possible but I think that’s a matter for the Minister for Justice,” he said.

Asked directly whether it was incumbent on Mr Shatter to withdraw his remarks, he said he should. “I’ve said I think it would be helpful if the remarks were withdrawn. I stand by that. It’s a matter both for the Garda Commissioner and Minister Shatter.”

He said his views were well-known in relation to the commissioner’s stance. “I think public office holders and senior public servants from time to time say things or use phrases that are a bit unfortunate and I think it’s always better that those are cleared up as soon as possible so that we can get on and deal with what are the substantive issues.”

The Tánaiste reiterated his support for the notion of handing oversight of the Garda to an independent authority. “The real question here is that we have a Garda force that is doing its job and I think we need to move to discuss the idea of there being a Garda authority or a policing board drawn across Irish society.”

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said he stood by his request last week that the Garda Commissioner withdraw remarks describing the actions of the Garda whistleblowers as “disgusting”.

“I made my views clear. They haven’t changed. I don’t wish to say any more or advance my position until the Cabinet has had a chance to talk about it tomorrow,” Mr Varadkar said.

Language ‘unacceptable’

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte also stuck to the Labour Party line

, saying Mr Callinan had an opportunity to draw a line under the controversy and called on him to do so.

Labour Party Minister of State for Trade Joe Costello said the commissioner should withdraw the remark and said this type of language was “unacceptable”.

Minister for Health James Reilly said he supported the Taoiseach’s instruction that Ministers restrict their views on the penalty points issue to Cabinet discussions and not debate the matter in public.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes said the Taoiseach had been “very clear” on this issue and he would await the discussion at Cabinet which would “crystallise” all of the issues.

“We all say things we shouldn’t have said over the years,” he said, noting Mr Callinan had “clarified his remarks”. Whether or not Mr Callinan makes another statement is a “matter for him”.