Fionnan Sheahan

Saturday 2 August 2014

If they'd listened to Varadkar maybe the damage would be less

Fionnan Sheahan

Published 21/03/2014|02:30

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HE'D be entitled to say 'told ya so'. Leo Varadkar has been dissenting from the official line on the penalty points affair for almost two years.

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The Transport Minister met the whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe and decided his evidence of abuse of the system was credible.

He has consistently said not all the allegations made by the whistleblowers were correct, but, in general, their claims have proven to be accurate.

The caveat has not been used as a means to undermine the credibility of the whistleblowers or their actions.

He met with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and was calling for a second investigation into the wiping of penalty points for months before the Government eventually gave in to the inevitable.

He said last summer it would be a "good idea" if the Garda Ombudsman also conducted an inquiry, following on from the internal garda investigation.

A more prompt response from Justice Minister Alan Shatter would possibly have avoided the current scenario where two further investigations into penalty points are now pending.

The saga is just dragging on.

The Transport Minister followed his train of thought yesterday by praising the whistleblowers and calling on the Garda Commissioner to withdraw his remarks on the whistleblowers actions being "disgusting".

Mr Varadkar's stance has unquestionably intensified the pressure on the Commissioner and irked his colleagues in Government – particularly on the Fine Gael side.

But the suggestions he has reignited a dead controversy are delusional.

The penalty points affair had gone quiet, like the rest of the political agenda, while ministers were scattered to the four corners of the globe for St Patrick's Day.

But it hasn't gone away.

Next week, there will be a lengthy Dail debate on the Garda Inspectorate's damning report on the penalty points saga.

The GSOC report is still in gestation, meaning it will all flare up again at some point.

In the coming month, there will be reports on two further garda controversies – the alleged bugging of GSOC and claims of the mismanagement of a dozen cases.

The attitude of the Justice Minister and Garda Commissioner towards the whistleblowers is now out of touch with the perception they highlighted abuse, which was proven to be correct.

The failure to acknow-ledge their role merely exacerbates how poorly this reflects on the gardai. But it also suggests lessons have not been learned and the cultural attitude towards highlighting wrongdoing hasn't changed.

Maybe if the Transport Minister's take had been listened to, the damage to the standing of the gardai wouldn't be so bad at this point. And the Government wouldn't have this ongoing headache.

Irish Independent

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