Analysis

Friday 25 July 2014

Committee room abuzz as PAC sees both sides of steely Martin

Published 24/01/2014|02:30

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Garda Commisoner Martin Callinan
Garda Commisoner Martin Callinan

THE Garda Commissioner was talking about bees. Martin Callinan was explaining to the slightly befuddled members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) how one individual had been spared penalty points. According to the police records, there were "bees worrying his livestock".

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Martin confessed that "at first glance" he had been "almost entertained" by this official explication.

But then he further read the petition on this particular case, and it transpired that the driver in question (who happened to be a beekeeper) had received a call from his wife to inform him that his bees were out of control and he had to get back quickly as there were people in close proximity.

The Commissioner added that the chap in question was engaged in a lot of voluntary work in his community and had been "in the region of nine kilometres over the speed limit. . . a man who had never transgressed," he added in sympathetic tones.

Two quite different Garda Commissioner Martin Callinans showed up at various stages during the five-hour PAC session.

The committee started off dealing with the issue of allegations concerning the cancellation of fixed charge penalty points, but which evolved into a debate about the two Garda whistleblowers who brought the allegations to the attention of the public.

And it saw the warm fuzzy Commissioner, with the mild eyes, reassuring granddad moustache and Zen attitude. He described how "100pc" of last year's penalty point cancellations were all legit. "Holistically the system itself is working very, very well," he reckoned. And as for the whistleblowers – "If those people, at any time, choose to knock on my door. . . by God, my door will be open to them," he declared.

But then there was the other Garda Commissioner. The one who was having no truck with talk of national scandals involving alleged corruption in his force.

"Where is the 'national scandal' here? Can you point your finger to where the 'national scandal' is?" he retorted to Labour TD Derek Nolan, who had the temerity to use the term. "There are many, many allegations being made. . . but nobody has provided any evidence of corruption or malpractice."

Derek tried without much success to engage the commissioner in a debate about the definition of "corruption" – was it corrupt for a garda to cancel penalty points as a favour to a family member, for instance.

"I would expect all my officers to act appropriately and fairly," he replied.

Nor would he countenance any suggestions from the committee that the two whistleblowers – one a now-retired garda and the other a serving member of the force – had felt compelled to go public with their allegations because they had no faith in the internal confidential system for reporting corruption within the gardai.

"Isn't it extraordinary that it isn't dozens, hundreds of members making these allegations?" he wondered.

There was a startling flash of steel at the issue of the PAC bringing in the two whistleblowers to answer questions next week. And he warned that he was prepared "to take legal advice" if PAC insist on bringing them in.

John McGuinness wanted to discuss the whistleblowers. He read aloud from a letter delivered that morning to the committee from one of the men, which said, "I don't think that I would do it again. It destroyed me, my career and my family."

At the back of the crowded public gallery, one of the whistleblowers, retired sergeant John Wilson, sat quietly.

However, the Garda Commissioner had drawn a big blue line in the sand. He pointed out that as the "chief accounting officer" of the Garda Siochana he was happy to answer all questions relating to finances.

But that was as far as he would go. When it came to matters relating to dealing with members of the force. . . well. . . the PAC could buzz right off, frankly.

Irish Independent

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