Issues highlight a colossal failure of communication

The Coalition did not take slow-burning controversy surrounding whistleblowers seriously enough

The Coalition has nobody to blame but itself for the resignation of Martin Callinan as commissioner and, and to a certain extent, how the issue of widespread recording of phone calls at Garda stations has erupted all of a sudden.

The Coalition has nobody to blame but itself for the resignation of Martin Callinan as commissioner and, and to a certain extent, how the issue of widespread recording of phone calls at Garda stations has erupted all of a sudden.

 

The Coalition has nobody to blame but itself for the resignation of Martin Callinan as commissioner and, and to a certain extent, how the issue of widespread recording of phone calls at Garda stations has erupted all of a sudden.

Both issues illustrate a colossal failure of communications across Government. Some are more guilty than others, especially Alan Shatter, but this controversy hasn’t finished yet, and even Attorney General Maire Whelan was drawn into the affair last night.

Firstly, for far too long, the Coalition did not take the slow-burning controversy surrounding Garda whistleblowers and penalty points seriously enough.

In a way, it suited Mr Shatter to dismiss the claims of Sgt Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson because they were repeatedly raised by Independents Mick Wallace and Clare Daly. It would have been harded to shake off if it was the besuited Micheál Martin.

The relationship between Mr Callinan and Mr Shatter also became an issue, particularly when the minister used information provided to him about Mr Wallace by the now former commissioner during a debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time .

But the fact that it was Wallace, a former property developer with well publicised tax issues who arouses mixed feelings among voters, probably allowed Shatter and Callinan away with what could reasonably be considered a resigning offence for both.

The fact that Wallace and Daly were the first to take up the penalty points cause allowed a certain sense of complacency to set in, but others in Cabinet took it far more seriously.

Officials from the Department of Transport met the whistleblowers in 2012 and found them to be credible.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar met the whistleblowers last year, and also found them to be credible. He became engaged in the issue, and tried to raise it with Mr Shatter on numerous occasions.

Fobbing off Mr Varadkar would come back to haunt Mr Shatter, and the Minster for Transport’s frustration led to his statement last week that Mr Callinan should withdraw his claim that the actions of Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson were “disgusting”.

As well as the fault lines between Mr Varadkar and Mr Shatter, Labour sources claimed Mr Callinan - and by extension Mr Shatter - were being given ample opportunity to clean up the situation but did not take it.

Sources in the junior Coalition partner claimed Mr Varadkar’s intervention let the “genie out of the bottle” and allowed them publicly voice their concerns about Mr Callinan.

However, last week was only the culmination of months of grumbling about Mr Callinan, following his reaction to the Smithwick Tribunal report, his performance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), as well as his quarrels with the PAC and Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

In a way Mr Callinan’s 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.

Mr Shatter’s position looked even more precarious last night, with the emergence of a letter showing the Department of Justice was aware of the recording at Garda stations back in November.

Mr Callinan wrote to the Department of Justice more than two weeks ago about the recording and retention of telephone conversations and, in the letter, Mr Callinan asked that Mr Shatter be informed of details of the recordings. It also said Mr Shatter consulted the Attorney General in November.

The Government stuck to its position that Mr Shatter was only made aware of the recording in recent days. Given the Taoiseach is unhappy that he wasn’t told about the recordings by Mr Callinan, the letter raises numerous questions.

Is it credible that Mr Shatter knew nothing of these claims after his department was made aware? Why didn’t the Attorney General tell the Taoiseach until last weekend?

And surely the Labour Party and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore - who was only told about the recordings at nine o’clock yesterday morning - cannot be happy with how a numerous communications breakdowns across Government have brought the Government to this pass?