JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter has dragged the Garda Commissioner into the Mick Wallace affair after admitting Martin Callinan passed him confidential information on the Independent TD.
Mr Shatter's admission has thrown the spotlight on his relationship with the Garda Commissioner, with accusations the Government and the higher echelons of the force are now too close.
Mr Shatter said Mr Callinan "mentioned" as an "aside" to him that Mr Wallace was let off with a warning by gardai when caught using his mobile phone in his car.
It led to claims of an "unhealthy" relationship between the Government and the force and TDs asked Mr Shatter about what other information his "friend, Commissioner Callinan" has given him.
And Mr Shatter's attempts to shut down the controversy were foiled by the state ethics watchdog admitting it was looking at formal complaints into his behaviour under ethics legislation.
Mr Shatter – who earlier this week refused to say who passed him the information on Mr Wallace, which he first mentioned during a live 'Prime Time' broadcast – said Mr Callinan had a "duty" to tell him of the incident.
And the force also defended its leader, with a spokesman saying: "The Commissioner carried out his duties under the Garda Siochana Act.
"Communications between the Commissioner and the minister are confidential."
Neither the gardai nor the Department of Justice would say if Mr Shatter gave Mr Callinan advance notice that he would be naming him in the Dail last night.
It comes as the State's ethics watchdog confirmed Mr Wallace and one other member of the public lodged a valid complaint against Mr Shatter.
The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) will now assess whether to investigate the complaint, on top of an investigation from the Data Protection Commissioner.
Other members of the public have also contacted both bodies expressing their concern with how Mr Shatter used the information. Some tried to lodge complaints to SIPO, but their attempts were not drafted correctly.
When asked about the relationship between Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan, Mr Wallace last night said: "I don't understand it yet."
He said it was a "miracle" he remembered his encounter with the gardai at the Five Lamps in Dublin last year. "I wasn't stopped, or wasn't cautioned," the Wexford TD said. "Yet this information goes all the way to the Minister of Justice? You couldn't make it up."
In his letter to SIPO, Mr Wallace called Mr Shatter's initial attack "bizarre, politically motivated and personal".
He cited ethics legislation which says a "person may have done an act . . . to be inconsistent" with the proper performance or functions of their office.
The same legislation also mentions "the maintenance of confidence in such performance by the general public and the matter is one of significant public importance".
Mr Wallace also cites the code of conduct for office holders which requires ministers "not to be influenced in their official duties by personal considerations . . . to protect the integrity of the offices they hold . . . respect confidences entrusted to them in the course of their official duties".
Mr Shatter denied using the information to politically damage Mr Wallace and insisted he did not know how Mr Callinan came across the information.
However, he said it was mentioned as an "aside" in the conversation between the pair on the wider penalty points issue.
"I certainly didn't go hunting for the information," Mr Shatter said. He said the information was not written down but arose in a "normal human context".
"I regret that comments made by me may have inadvertently resulted in concerns being expressed that I am prepared to use confidential information to damage a political opponent," he said. "Nothing could be further from the truth.
"I am not in the business of receiving, seeking or maintaining confidential, sensitive information about members of the house, the Seanad or indeed, anyone political life.
"I have no information on any member of this house," he said, adding: "If Deputy Wallace feels that I did him some personal wrong by mentioning it, then I have no problem in saying sorry." But he insisted he acted in the public interest, given Mr Wallace's position on the wider penalty points issue.
"It was wrong of Deputy Wallace to pillory others for the proper exercise of lawful discretion. Deputy Wallace had himself been the beneficiary of a lawful discretion."
Mr Wallace himself said Mr Shatter stooped to a most "unparliamentary level" and said releasing the information was not in the public interest.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Mr Shatter's actions represented "an abuse of power, an abuse of office" and were "fundamentally wrong".
But Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mr Shatter was "not going around collecting information" on politicians or members of the public.
"What Mr Shatter said was not an allegation about anything. What he said was a comment, a piece of information, which was actually confirmed by Deputy Wallace himself as being true and being accurate.
"It is not an allegation. It was a segment of information that was true and relevant to the overall discussion and the argument being put forward by Deputy Wallace in relation to fixed penalty charges."