Saturday 20 October 2018

GUBU barely does justice to a scandal as shocking as this

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan

Shane Phelan Public, Affairs Editor

AFTER a series of controversies involving the gardai over the past two years, it is now safe to say we have finally reached GUBU territory.

Since 2012 we have had the penalty points controversy; the Kieran Boylan case; findings of garda collusion with the IRA; and allegations that the Garda Ombudsman's office was bugged.

There have been over a dozen investigations, inquiries and reviews already into all of these controversies. The findings of some are still awaited.

But now, potentially the biggest scandal of them all has come right out of left field when no one was expecting it.

The existence of 2,500 secret recordings of phone calls in and out of garda stations around the country tops the lot.

The implications of the existence of the tapes could be huge, particularly if conversations between suspects and their lawyers were recorded.

It is a practice which, we are told, began in the 1980s when bomb threats were a regular occurrence.

Some garda stations stopped it long ago. But it continued to be used on an ad hoc basis in many other stations around the country.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan looked into the issue last year and ended the practice in November. However, according to the Government, he didn't tell Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who only found out about it in recent days.

The timing of the disclosure of this information by Government yesterday will give rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories.

If the intention was to deflect attention away from the beleaguered Mr Shatter, it was an abject failure. Indeed, calls for his resignation only intensified.

Coming just hours after Mr Callinan's resignation – which everyone had presumed was over his refusal to apologise for describing the actions of two garda whistleblowers as "disgusting" – yesterday's events were catapulted into the realm of the grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented.

Taoiseach Charles Haughey used these words to describe the extremely strange events which led to the arrest of double murderer Malcolm MacArthur in the home of attorney general Patrick Connolly in 1982.

Conor Cruise O'Brien later coined the acronym GUBU, which has been overused down through the years in times of crisis.

But now we truly have a scandal worth attaching it to.

The common thread in all of the controversies of the past two years has been Mr Callinan, either through his central involvement or his reaction to them. Despite being widely regarded as one of the most distinguished gardai to have led the force, his four-year tenure will be remembered as a turbulent one.


Last year the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) accused the gardai of delaying its investigation into the case of Kieran Boylan, a convicted drug dealer against whom charges connected to a €1.7m drugs haul were mysteriously dropped in July 2008.

Last month it emerged that GSOC suspected its offices had been bugged by gardai. A probe could find no evidence that gardai were involved or even that the GSOC offices were definitively bugged.

When the story broke six weeks ago, Mr Callinan was highly indignant at the thought members of the force could have been suspected.

Similarly, he was unable to accept the full findings of the Smithwick Tribunal that gardai had colluded with the IRA in the murder of two RUC officers in 1989.

Mr Callinan apologised unreservedly for any wrongdoing by members of the force. However, he would not accept the report's findings that members of the gardai place loyalty to the force above honesty.

A month later Mr Callinan was before the Dail's Public Accounts Committee over the garda penalty points controversy and made the "disgusting" comment.

Two months later, faced with calls from five government ministers for him to withdraw the remarks, Mr Callinan resigned and within hours all hell broke loose.

Mr Callinan's resignation statement said that in the best interest of the force and his family he had decided to retire.

However, it is likely that he will remain in the public eye for some time to come. A commission of inquiry will want to learn about the taping of calls. Appearances before the Oireachtas justice committee are also likely to be required of Mr Callinan before the full details of GUBU Mark 2 are teased out.

Irish Independent

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