New bid to heal rift in Coalition over points row
GARDA chiefs are set to be answerable to civilians for the first time under proposals being fast-tracked to defuse the Coalition row over the garda whistleblower affair.
However, positions were hardening last night in the public split over the description by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan of the action of the penalty points whistleblowers as "disgusting".
Despite growing disquiet, Mr Callinan has made no further comment on his remarks on the disclosure of confidential information from the force's Pulse computer system. The commissioner has already issued two statements of clarification since he made the comments at a meeting of the Dail public accounts committee in January – and if he did opt for a third statement, it would likely be confined to another explanation of the context of his comments, rather than an apology.
As the row rumbled on, Fine Gael and Labour officials were engaged in preliminary talks on the creation of a new independent garda authority. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore have also been in contact over the weekend about the crisis.
Health Minister James Reilly today declined to give a view on whether Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan should apologise.
He said he would make his views known at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow before making any public statement as requested by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
He said he supports the rights of people to whistleblow and he added that he would ensure the part of the new draft contract for GPs who will agree to treat under-six children for free, will be clarified after doctors dubbed it a gagging clause.
Meanwhile, in a bid to ease Labour concerns over the accountability of the gardai, Fine Gael is seeking to speed up the draft of the plan for a garda oversight body.
Rather than merely referring the issue to an Oireachtas committee, the Government is now expected to signal the setting up of the new body in principle.
The new authority would fit in between the Commissioner and the Justice Minister of the day. Its responsibilities would include:
* Receiving regular reports from garda management.
* Questioning the Garda Commissioner and senior officers.
* Drawing up overall policy statements.
* Setting goals and priorities.
* Assessing the performance of the force.
* Approving budgets.
* Deciding on the best use of resources.
The garda authority would be broadly based on the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Unlike the Northern Ireland model, it wouldn't have the power to appoint the Garda Commissioner.
The issue will be discussed at the cabinet meeting tomorrow, but Justice Minister Alan Shatter is not expected to bring a memo for consideration.
A broad agreement would be viewed as a signal of a desire to change the overall culture of accountability in the garda.
"It's actively being discussed. It's not over the line. What shape would it be? It's being looked at. You have to bring it to Government at principle level," a senior government source told the Irish Independent.
However, there is little sign of resolution to the tensions around Mr Callinan.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he has not been in touch with Mr Callinan. "I haven't been in touch with the commissioner," Mr Kenny said, adding he would not pre-empt what the Cabinet will discuss tomorrow.