Varadkar urges Callinan to withdraw ‘disgusting’ remark

Garda spokesman says remark was in reference to release of data and not character of the men

‘I think the Commissioner should withdraw that remark which was made on the record of the Dáil,’ Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

‘I think the Commissioner should withdraw that remark which was made on the record of the Dáil,’ Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has called on Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to withdraw comments in which he described the actions of whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson as “disgusting”.

While Mr Varadkar said he still has confidence in Mr Callinan, he said the Commissioner “isn’t above criticism”.

He also said it would be “appropriate” for Mr Callinan to withdraw the comments he made at the Public Accounts Committee.

“I think the Commissioner should withdraw that remark which was made on the record of the Dáil and make any other corrections he needs to make to the testimony he made to the Public Accounts Committee,” Mr Varadkar said at a Road Safety Authority conference in Dublin today.

He also thanked the whistleblowers for their actions, but said it is up to other people to decide if they need to apologise to Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson.

Mr Callinan used the term “disgusting” to describe the leaking of details of the quashing of penalty points but recently said this was not a reference to the character of the whistleblowers.

However, Mr Varadkar said the comment should still be withdrawn. “I think it is very important to bear in mind that the Garda whistleblowers only released information about people after they tried to use the correct procedures and those procedures failed them and when they did release the information, they did it through Oireachtas members which is provided for under the Garda act of 2005,” the Dublin West TD said. “So yes, I do think that remark should be withdrawn. ”

But when asked if the whistleblowers should be given an apology, he said: “If people feel they need to make an apology that’s up to them because there is no point in making an apology that isn’t sincere.”

Mr Varadkar received a round of applause from delegates at the conference when he described the actions of the whistleblowers as “distinguished”.

Speaking during the conference, Mr Varadkar said he understood the criticism the whistleblowers had received for releasing private information but that he did not agree with it.

“The Garda whistleblowers only released this information after they tried and failed to have their concerns addressed through official channels and proper means,” he said. “They released the information in an effort to expose bad practice and protect the public and this was done through contact with members of the Oireachtas, which is expressly provided for in the Garda Acts.”

He continued: “Speaking on my own behalf and on behalf of the thousands of families who have had to endure the pain and loss that flows from the death of a loved one on the road, I want to thank Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson. They may not have got everything right but they did shine a light into a dark place and forced those who would rather turn a blind-eye to face up to the truth.

“There have been many words used to describe their actions. But if I was to use one word, the word I would use is ‘distinguished.”

Asked about Mr Varadkar’s remarks in Brussels this afternoon, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said “we’ve been over this ground on many occasions”.

“Clearly the inspectorate report is now being implemented with 37 conditions along with the O Mahony report and what you need here is a system here that is transparent, that is accountable, that is oversighted that is fair and that removes any semblance of interference from any quarter about how [penalty points] should be regulated...The first meeting took place today, and I expect a speedy and conclusive outcome to the report . GSOC themselves will come with a further report on the penalty point system and their recommendations of course will be recommended in full as well. “

In a statement this afternoon, a Garda spokesman re-iterated that Mr Callinan used the word “disgusting” in reference to “the manner in which personal and sensitive data was inappropriately appearing in the public domain without regard to due process and fair procedures” rather than “the character of either Sgt McCabe or former Garda Wilson”.

However, the spokesman would not say if Mr Callinan will withdraw his remarks.