Tánaiste calls on Shatter to withdraw comments

Gilmore denies Cabinet in disarray over penalty points controversy

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore responds to questions on the GSOC affair after announcing details of a €600,000 grant towards the redevelopment of the Ruislip GAA grounds in London. Video: Bryan O'Brien


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 this morning in Dublin come amid tension in the Cabinet over claims that 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 that there would be differing views within Government on certain topics. The matter will be discussed when the Cabinet meets tomorrow.

Although Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said Ministers should not discuss their views on the matter outside the Cabinet room, Mr Gilmore said answers had to be given when questions were in the 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 today brings fresh attention to Mr Shatter’s stance.

The Minister for Justice has 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 that 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“I’ve said that I think it would be helpful if the remarks were withdrawn.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,” Mr Gilmore said.

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,” he said.

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 today he stands by his request for Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw remarks describing the actions of whistleblowers as “disgusting”.

Last week Mr Varadkar broke ranks with his Cabinet colleagues and reignited the controversy when he called for the withdrawal of the comments and said today his view had not changed.

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

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte also stuck to the Labour Party line on this issue saying that Mr Callinan had an opportunity to draw a line under the controversy and called on him to do so.

Mr Rabbitte also suggested there were positive aspects to the controversy, including that it had put the issues of improved Garda oversight on the agenda.

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

Earlier, highlighting the differing views in Cabinet on this matter, 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.

“I heard the Taoiseach loud and clear. I believe he is right. . . We should sort it out in private and allow people air their views there.”

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 will “crystallise” all of the issues .

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

Speaking in Dublin last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hadn’t been in touch with Mr Callinan on the issue, but said it will be discussed at Cabinet.

“We have an agenda for every Cabinet meeting obviously,” Mr Kenny said.

“I wouldn’t pre-empt any of the issues.”

While Mr Kenny and Mr Callinan have not spoken, it is understood the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore spoke over the weekend in an effort to calm tensions between the two Coalition partners.

It is understood the Commissioner does not intend to issue a full apology but will release a further clarifying statement ahead of the Cabinet meeting.