Tuesday 21 October 2014

Shock as Callinan resigns over whistleblower controversy

Commissioner walks, immediately heaping pressure on Alan Shatter

Niall O'Connor and Fionnan Sheahan

Published 25/03/2014 | 09:50

SEVERAL ministers learned of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s resignation through media reports, rather than hearing it from Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Mr Callinan notified Mr Shatter and the Department of Justice at about 9am.

Ministers were gathering in Government Buildings at the time for their weekly Cabinet meeting and discussions they regularly hold beforehand.

But it’s not clear if Mr Shatter made efforts to contact colleagues, including Fine Gael’s coalition partners in the Labour Party.

“Quite a few people found out from media and Twitter. It was quite a surprise. Word then got around quite quickly. Not every minister was immediately aware,” a source said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to face questions about the affair in the Dail this afternoon.

The fallout continues after Mr Callinan sensationally resigned in the wake of the highly damaging whistleblower scandal.

Mr Callinan told Mr Shatter this morning that he is vacating the high level post with “immediate effect”.

The news sent shockwaves through government circles and has taken some of Mr Callinan's closest colleagues by complete surprise.

And it is certain to heap further pressure on Mr Shatter, whose future as Justice Minister is now in serious doubt.

The Herald can today reveal that the Commissioner's decision to quit was heavily influenced by the constant criticism within political circles.

The matter came to a head in recent days when Transport Minister Leo Varadkar called on him to withdraw controversial remarks regarding whistleblowers made at the Public Accounts Committee.

“He felt like he had became a political football in order to settle scores in cabinet and decided enough was enough,” a source close to Mr Callinan said.

The Commissioner's decision to quit was heavily influenced by the constant criticism from political circles, sources have confirmed. 

In a statement, Mr Callinan said: “In the best interests of An Garda Siochana and my family, I have decided to retire.

“I felt recent developments were proving to be a distraction from the important work carried out on a daily basis for the citizens of the State in an independent and impartial manner.”

Sources said a new commissioner will have to be found as soon as possible, perhaps even in the next 48 hours.

Deputy Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, who is favourite to succeed Mr Callinan, will take over the force until his successor is found.

Mr Callinan has faced several calls to resign following his handling of the whistleblower scandal.

The senior officer sparked outrage after he claimed that the actions of whistleblowers Sergeant Maurice McCabe and John Wilson were “disgusting”.

Both McCabe and Wilson had downloaded and leaked data from the Garda PULSE system in order to highlight the unlawful quashing of penalty points.

Mr Callinan consistently refused to withdraw the statement.

The ‘disgusting' remark has dominated the political agenda for the past five days.

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Attention will now switch to embattled Alan Shatter, who is facing calls to resign.

The justice minister's position is ‘untenable’ following Mr Callinan's resignation, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has said.

The opposition leader said Mr Callinan’s sudden resignation has resulted in a ‘difficult situation’ for Minister Shatter.

“If the situation was handled differently, we would not be where we are now,” Mr Martin told Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One this morning.

“Shatter handled the controversy in an appalling manner. He has not been fully accountable to the Dail and he has refused to withdraw remarks he made in the Dail about the whistleblowers.

“In my view, his position is now untenable given what has transpired. He hasn’t handled this well at all.”

Martin’s comments come following Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s sensational resignation this morning.

A garda spokesperson told independent.ie this morning that Mr Callinan is to step down "with immediate effect".

The move has sent shockwaves through government circles and took most ministers by surprise.

“I was certainly surprised,” Mr Martin said.

“It is very difficult for him... I am sad for him.”

Mr Martin described this morning’s news as ‘the latest depressing chapter in a long saga’.

“Any criticism [Mr Shatter] he is handed out, he gets adversarial very quickly,” he continued.

“He finds it very difficult to apologise and he finds it difficult, if not impossible, to say ‘I got this one wrong’.”

A spokesperson for the Justice Minister said that no comment would be made, and the Taoiseach's spokesperson also said that no comment would be made until after today's cabinet meeting.

Speculation began to mount this morning about the Commissioner's position after every single cabinet minister, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny,

avoided the media ahead of their weekly cabinet meeting in government buildings.

The Herald can reveal that a series of high-level meetings involving ministers took place as late as last night.

Mr Kenny held separate discussions with both Mr Shatter and Mr Varadkar in a bid to diffuse the crisis that has engulfed the coalition.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Shatter also held an informal conversation in the corridors of Leinster House, sources say, during which Mr Varadkar said he was not backing down on his demands for Mr Callinan to withdraw the ‘disgusting' remark.

The relationship between two of the government's most senior ministers is now extremely fraught. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is understood to be desperate to calm tensions within Fine Gael.

Meanwhile, whistleblower John Wilson has said he takes “no pleasure” in the shock move, insisting that the Commissioner's position was untenable.

“Martin Callinan has done this country some service throughout his long career. But his position had become untenable and his decision to resign was the correct one,” he said.

But Independent TD Mick Wallace says he was “not shocked” by the move.

“I suppose the big question now is whether Minister Shatter can stay in place,” he said on RTE Radio, immediately turning the spotlight on the justice minister. He said Mr Shatter was a “disaster” in the whole area of policing.

In Mr Callinan’s statement, issued shortly before lunchtime, he did not directly refer to the whistleblower controversy but said that he decided to resign from his post because he felt the recent controversy was proving to be a distraction from the important work being carried out daily by the force on behalf of the citizens of the State in an independent and impartial manner.

He said he believed his decision to step down now was in the best interests of the force and his family.

Mr Callinan said he had great confidence that the delivery of an excellent policing service by excellent people would continue as it had done since the foundation of the force.

Having joined the Garda in May 1973, he said it had been a great honour and privilege to have spent nearly 41 years as a member of “this tremendous organisation”, serving the people of Ireland.

Reacting to the resignation, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) secretary John Redmond said "the imminent review of An Garda Síochána is timely and should be prioritised by Government and Garda management as a matter of urgency following the resignation..."

"The Garda organisation has come under the spotlight recently. Some of the reports and criticisms have impacted greatly with morale seriously diminished within the organisation. All of this when our members are trying to deliver a policing service in difficult times. 

"As you know we are in the process of undertaking a review of the Garda organisation as part of the Haddington Road agreement.  Now is the opportune time to expand the review of the Garda organisation to include oversight and accountability and indeed to look at service provision generally by the Garda organisation.  The public have expectations of what service they want and yet this review is not engaging globally with all interested parties and stakeholders."

Further Reading

- Will Noreen O’Sullivan be the first female Garda Commissioner?

- Warring FG ministers ordered to cool penalty points row

- Timeline of the whistleblower crisis

- How speculation over celebrity favours mushroomed into a full-blown crisis for Coalition

- Cloud looms over garda debacle as all sides fail to cover themselves in glory

- What they said on the whistleblower crisis. . . 

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