Wednesday 20 November 2019

Warring FG ministers ordered to cool penalty points row

Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan.
Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan.
Whistleblower Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe. Picture: Tom Burke

John Downing, Tom Brady and Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told two of his warring ministers to meet, in a bid to pull the party together following the highly damaging whistleblower controversy.

The Irish Independent can reveal that Leo Varadkar and Alan Shatter held a scheduled meeting in private yesterday, at the behest of Mr Kenny.

The Taoiseach also met Mr Varadkar himself – just days after the Transport Minister sent shockwaves through cabinet by calling on Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, pictured, to withdraw his controversial remarks about the two whistleblowers.

Fine Gael sources say the meetings were necessary to "calm tensions" sparked by Mr Varadkar's speech at a Road Safety conference last Thursday.

The Transport Minister faced the prospect of being politically isolated as Labour last night shied away from putting any further pressure on the Garda Commissioner.

However, speaking on RTE Radio this morning, Independent TD Clare Daly said that both the justice minister and the garda commissioner should resign over the issue.

Meanwhile Mr Callinan stood firm against calls for him to withdraw or further clarify comments about the garda whistleblowers – as Fine Gael and Labour ministers prepare for their most intense cabinet meeting since coming into office three years ago.

Despite all five of the Labour cabinet members calling on Mr Callinan to address the matter, party sources said they would not be seeking his resignation if he failed to comply.

Labour believes that it is close to agreement on a revamp of garda oversight structures and expects a positive signal from today's cabinet meeting.

"We are not going to politicise this matter about the Commissioner. We are working on getting reform of garda structures and we are more than hopeful we can make good progress here," one Labour Party source said last night.

Mr Kenny remained silent on the row at a series of public engagements yesterday. He is known to be extremely annoyed by the statements made last week by Mr Varadkar.

The Dublin West TD also infuriated Mr Shatter after he criticised the Commissioner and requested that he withdraw his claim that the actions of Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former garda John Wilson were "disgusting".

But yesterday the pair met in private and discussed their major differences, according to well-placed sources. When asked if he has spoken to Mr Shatter, Mr Varadkar responded: "I'd prefer not to answer that question. I'm not resiling from my position, but I'm not saying any more at this stage."

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney insisted that the Government must put in place the structures to protect whistleblowers.

When it was pointed out on RTE's 'Prime Time' that whistleblowers will not be encouraged by the phrase "disgusting", Mr Coveney replied: "Clearly."

The remarks by Mr Varadkar last week also started a chain reaction among Labour ministers, who had until then remained silent.

Party sources confirmed that they felt "outflanked" by the Transport Minister and in danger of losing political ground among liberal voters. But Labour won't press the issue if Mr Callinan fails to act further.

At the same time, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore dragged Mr Shatter back into the spotlight over his own comments about the garda whistleblowers.


Mr Shatter told the Dail last year that both Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson had refused to co-operate with an internal garda inquiry into the quashing of penalty points. Both men have strongly denied Mr Shatter's claim.

Asked specifically yesterday if Mr Shatter should withdraw this claim, the Labour leader replied: "I think there are always comments that are made; I think it's always best that they are cleared up as quick as possible but I think that's a matter for the Minister for Justice."

And in defence of his own Labour colleagues, Mr Gilmore said it was correct for ministers to publicly comment over the Garda Commissioner's "disgusting" remark.

"It is always preferable and it is always better if matters are discussed around the Cabinet table and that they're discussed in confidence around the Cabinet table. But when matters are in the public domain and questions are being asked about it, I think answers have to be given," he said.

Mr Callinan is making no further comment on the controversy in advance of the Cabinet meeting.

He has already issued two statements of clarification since his comment to the Dail public accounts meeting in January that the actions of Sgt McCabe and Mr Wilson in continuing to release confidential information from the Pulse computer system to third parties were "disgusting".

Mr Callinan has also said he fully supports any member of the force reporting wrongdoing. But he stressed he could not support the manner in which sensitive and personal data was inappropriately appearing in the public domain.

Irish Independent

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