Analysis

Friday 1 August 2014

Dearbhail McDonald: Callinan’s reputation damaged

Published 25/03/2014|11:56

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COMMISSIONER Callinan’s resignation may result in his reputation being feted internally within “his force”, but what are the wider implications?

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It seems one word, “disgusting,” has unravelled the distinguished career for former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who resigned ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting, possibly alleviating Ministers of the delicate task of asking him to gracefully step aside.

The resignation itself is not shocking in light of the refusal of Commissioner Callinan to withdraw - notwithstanding earlier clarifications - the “disgusting” remark he used to describe two garda whistleblowers that appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

But the resignation is shocking in the context of the force’s modern history.

Mr Callinan is not the first Garda Commissioner to leave at the height of a controversy.

Following a general election in 1933 Taoiseach Eamon de Valera dismissed Eoin O'Duffy as Garda Commissioner.

Explaining the reason for his dismissal, de Valera claimed that O’Duffy was “likely to be biased in his attitude because of past political affiliations”.

In fact, de Valera feared O’Duffy was quietly encouraging a military coup to oust the incoming Fianna Fail Government.

In 1978, Garda Commissioner Edmund (Ned) Garvey, who set up the infamous “Heavy Gang,” was relieved of his duties by the incoming Fianna Fail Government.

Former Garda Commissioner Patrick McLaughlin, who died two years ago, went to his death bed insisting that he had not been sacked or forced to resign.

McLaughlin left the force in January 1983 following the disclosure that he had signed warrants directing the bugging of the telephones of Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy on behalf of Charlie Haughey and his Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty.

McLaughlin was effectively offered the alternative of resigning or being sacked and chose the former, leaving the force with his official record of good service and his pension intact.

Like McLaughlin, Callinan may have opted to take control of his own destiny by resigning ahead of a divisive Cabinet meeting today.

Perhaps he could not countenance any further clarifications and opted to stand by his strongly expressed belief at the PAC that the conduct of the whistleblowers was “disgusting”.

Callinan would not even have had to weather this storm but for the fact that his term as Commissioner was extended, two years ago, by the Government.

Extending Callinan’s term until 2015, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said that since Callinan’s appointment, crime statistics recorded by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) had shown reductions in the great majority of crime groups.

Callinan’s close working relationship with Mr Shatter, who has stood Tammy Wynette style by Commissioner Callinan, was increasingly problematic for both men and could yet pose a mortal risk to the minister.

Callinan’s decision to resign may reflect well on his reputation within “his force”.

But outside of the garda family, his reputation has been damaged by the handling of the penalty points and whistleblower controversy.

It falls to the new Garda Commissioner and, in a worst case scenario, a new Government, to restore public trust in - and oversight of - the force.

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