Saturday 22 November 2014

Callinan in legal effort to block whistleblowers

Shane Phelan and Tom Brady

Published 24/01/2014 | 02:30

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan (front), with, from left, Deputy Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan and Assistant Commisioners John Twomey and John O'Mahony

GARDA Commissioner Martin Callinan is seeking legal advice to determine whether he should take action to prevent two "whistleblowers" from appearing before the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to outline their allegations of corruption by senior officers in cancelling penalty points.

One of the whistleblowers, named yesterday as Sgt Maurice McCabe, has been invited to give evidence to the committee on Thursday, while the second, retired garda John Wilson, has indicated that he also wants to appear.

This follows a five-hour grilling of Mr Callinan by committee members yesterday, when he condemned the whistleblowers' trawl of the internal Pulse computer system to find wrongdoing.

He accused the two men of spending countless hours searching through Pulse without specific reasons and said this was patently wrong.

Mr Callinan told the committee he encouraged his members to report wrongdoing but said this should be done through the proper channels, either by passing on the information to the garda authorities or through the confidential reporting system.

He described the behaviour of the two whistleblowers as disgusting in opting to make unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and criminality against senior colleagues in a public forum.

He suggested it was extraordinarily unfair that those allegations were being aired when nobody else in the force had sight of them, adding that the whistleblowers "may very well be misguided on the state of the information they have".

Mr Callinan continued: "I will have to take legal advice. My personal view is that a member of An Garda Siochana, serving or retired, should not be using this forum to discuss matters of this importance.

"It will certainly have an adverse affect on the maintenance of discipline and good order in An Garda Siochana."

The commissioner said he could not allow a situation where he would be "usurped by subordinates".

This was not a case of "circling the wagons" and no one could accuse him of not being tough on wrongdoing within the force.

He pointed out that the information provided by the two whistleblowers did not give the full picture.

They would only have been looking at "a snapshot" from the Pulse system and would not have had access to the audit trail held at the district office.

It would have been impossible to conclude whether garda discretion was used correctly or incorrectly without having access to the audit trail, he said.

He also suggested that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be involved if criminal allegations were being made.

Mr Callinan took exception to comments by Labour TD Derek Nolan that the controversy was "a national scandal". Mr Nolan later withdrew the phrase.

Committee chairman John McGuinness, who named the whistleblowers, said the committee had compiled a report based on "a box of evidence" supplied by one of them.

"It is very disturbing, I have to say. There is a need for a comprehensive response to this document," Mr McGuinness told the commissioner.

Mr Callinan said it was "extremely unfair that this position is now evolving" and pointed out he had not seen the information supplied.

He said one of the whistleblowers had made a complaint on 20 issues under garda fraud regulations. A file had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions but no prosecution was recommended.

The second whistleblower made a similar complaint, citing 17 specific cases of alleged criminality, he said. A file on this had also gone to the DPP.

Mr Callinan admitted that there were "weaknesses" in the enforcement of the penalty points system but insisted that the force had now tightened up on procedures.

The commissioner said the changes, introduced last August following a report by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony, had led to "greater oversight and auditing of the system".

He added: "The impact of these measures has already been seen, with internal audits of fixed-charge penalty notice cancellations in November and December 2013 showing that 100pc of these cancellations were carried out within policy".

Comptroller & Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said he initiated an investigation after a whistleblower had contacted him alleging that members of the force had cancelled penalty point "corruptly or illegally".

He expressed concern about the absence of records in some cases examined, giving rise to suspicions they might have been cancelled without due cause.

The C&AG also said large numbers of summonses were never served, leading to cases where penalty points fines had not been paid being struck out.

"One in five unpaid fines did not go to court," he said.

Speaking this morning, a member of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee has described Commissioner Callinan's attitude as "disdainful".

Independent Deputy Shane Ross said he thought it was "extraordinary" that Mr Callinan said the committee was not the platform for whistleblowers to give information.

He was almost disdainful of the Public Accounts Committee, which is after all a democratic forum," Mr Ross said on RTE's Morning Ireland.

"He then went on to say that they (whistleblowers) should be dealt with by me, myself - meaning that he was important enough to do it, but not us.

"He went on to talk about being usurped by subordinates, which was an extraordinary phrase to use - again regarding his 'subordinates', as he calls them, as being second class citizens when they have every right to express a view, an opinion, and give evidence in public."

Irish Independent

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