Twin egos once joined at the hip threaten Coalition

The two men at the top of our justice system, cut from the same cloth, seem to be turning on each other. And this story is turning into one for the history books

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and former Garda commisioner Martin Callinan. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and former Garda commisioner Martin Callinan. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Wed, Mar 26, 2014, 10:51

Here’s your cap, Commissioner, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. That’s not the way it was. And the Taoiseach, with a perfectly straight face, was at pains to point this out to an incredulous Opposition yesterday evening. In fact, we were all incredulous. Martin Callinan did not resign.

Nor was he pushed. He wasn’t stitched up. And he didn’t leave the pitch in a fit of pique because his erstwhile defenders had to cut him loose to save their own skins. No. The Garda commissioner decided to pack away his swagger stick and toddle off into the well-pensioned sunset of retirement.

Enda wished him well and thanked him for his 41 years of sterling service (while simultaneously informing the House of the sensational news that the Garda Síochána has been allegedly illegally taping telephone conversations for 30 years).

Meanwhile, Alan Shatter, who had joined the Taoiseach in backing the gung-ho Garda commissioner to the hilt before he suddenly decided to retire, stayed out of the Dáil – probably too distraught at the shock departure of the officer he so staunchly defended. But he issued a lovely statement later in the evening, extending his sincere gratitude to Callinan for his long years of distinguished service. After Callinan’s intervention last night, they might not be so well disposed towards him now. But earlier, it was a case of what’s all this talk of resignation about?

The Taoiseach took his detractors to task and instructed them to look closer at an important word in the opening paragraph of the commissioner’s valedictory statement. “Retire,” he stressed, like he was addressing a crowd of halfwits. “Retire.” That’s alright so. But nobody was buying it.

“You’re not in the national school in Kiltimagh now,” snorted Billy Kelleher. “You have a neck to say he retired,” thundered Joe Higgins.

Back on the Government front bench, James Reilly chuckled, finding it all great gas. But then, the gaffe-prone Minister for Health hasn’t had it so good since the whistleblower crisis began consuming the Coalition.

The retire versus resign distinction was an important one, because it gives the Government a convenient excuse not to hold a debate on Martin Callinan’s departure. How could the House address the resignation of the highest law officer in the land when he’d only gone and retired? That was the Taoiseach’s story and he clumsily spun it with only the slightest hint of desperation.

The Opposition swayed between open derision and outright anger. But that didn’t really matter.