Callinan forced out of office for ‘political expediency’

Garda association leader says policing needs to be disentangled from politics

The former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was forced out of office for political expediency and that was obvious to everyone, the largest Garda staff association in the force has said.

In a strongly worded attack at what he saw as political interference in the force, general secretary of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) PJ Stone said recent controversies culminating in Mr Callinan leaving office underlined the need for policing to be completely disentangled from politics.

He also said the promotions system within An Garda Síochána was biased, with the sons or daughters of serving or former senior officers more likely to be promoted than others from his organisation seeking to become sergeants and move on up the ranks.

"It has been obvious for some time and I think the removal of Mr Callinan as Commissioner clearly illustrates to me at least that the Garda Síochána is subject to political whim," Mr Stone said at the closing session of his association's annual delegate conference in Killarney, Co Kerry today.

“The force has been under severe pressure and issues have arisen which have spiralled out of control.

“None of the members of my association are responsible for any of these debacles and I think it is now time to ensure that confidence is restored. “And in order for that to happen in a meaningful way, I think we need an independent oversight body which would take control of the Garda Síochána; its budgets, its resources, its capital expenditure and more importantly its promotion system.”

When asked if he felt Mr Callinan was effectively sacked by politicians, he said he believed a difficult situation had been engineered from which the former commissioner had no option but to leave office.

“I am saying Martin Callinan was removed from office and that is obvious to everybody,” he said. “I think it is a disgraceful way to treat the head of a police force. If you dispatch after a political meeting a head of a department, one can only conclude that there had to be political interference.”

Mr Stone was referring to the visit of Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell to Mr Callinan's home after Taoiseach Enda Kenny was made aware that telephone calls to and from Garda stations had been secretly recorded for decades. Mr Callinan was already under pressure as commissioner over his handling of whistleblowers who came forward to highlight the termination by gardaí of motorists penalty points for no apparent legitimate reason.

In particularly his use of the word “disgusting” to describe the actions of two Garda whistleblowers was seen as particularly problematic and saw him come under pressure from several Cabinet ministers to withdraw the remark and apologise.

While Mr Stone, whose association represents around 10,500 rank and file gardaí in a force numbering 13,000, was adamant Mr Callinan was forced from office by Government, he declined to single out who was responsible.

“It is not necessary for me to spell that out in detail,” he said. “There is an inquiry taking place which I think will bring all of those facts into the public arena and I am sure that Mr Callinan will cooperate with that inquiry and then all will be revealed in the course of time.”

Away from the recent controversies, he said the fact the minister for justice of the day and the Cabinet appointed senior officers to the force up to and including the commissioner was “not good” and needed to be addressed. This was no way to appoint senior officers, adding there were also problems with appointments lower down the ranks.

“What we are doing at the bottom of the organisation is looking for real leadership, for people who have the capacity and the ability to become commissioner, to become sergeants and inspectors.

“We do see - and it’s obvious in some of the promotion and selection processes - that people are overlooked. The promotions system needs to be radically overhauled and we are the only ones saying that, which is a great pity.

“There is a trend in the Garda Síochána, where people whose fathers had been superintendents are likely to be promoted above others.”

Most recently three people had been interviewed for the post of deputy commissioner. Their names had been then sent to the Department of Justice for the political system to decide who the successful candidate would be.

“Is there a lottery wheel in the Department of Justice that is spun to pick out whomever (is promoted)?” Mr Stone asked.

He added the neither the Department of Justice, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter nor Cabinet should have any role in appointing the next commissioner of deputy commissioners.

“This should be now done by an independent body that is responsible for policing. We have to restore public confidence. “We cannot continue to be part of some political machinations whereby the Garda Síochána is hauled out and pulled up to be dusted down when the politicians themselves have problems of their own.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times