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Commissioner finally did right thing – and Shatter could be next to go

Martin Callinan has chosen to leave the stage on his own terms.

By handing in his resignation this morning, the Garda Commissioner has made it clear that he will not be pressured into making an apology to anyone unless he actually means it.

His shock departure has also left Justice Minister Alan Shatter with an uncomfortable decision – say sorry to the garda whistleblowers yourself or do the honourable thing and resign as well.

Callinan's decision came completely out of the blue.

As late as last night there was widespread speculation that he might do the Government a favour by withdrawing his 'disgusting' comments without offering a formal apology.

Instead he stunned ministers by quitting at around 9.40am, just before a cabinet meeting that was set to be divisive and bad-tempered enough in the first place.

The Commissioner is said to have privately regretted his use of the word 'disgusting' at the Public Accounts Committee in January.

However, his later claim that he was talking about the leaking of information rather than the whistleblowers' characters did not cut ice with many people.

From a historic point of view, Callinan's resignation in these circumstances is unprecedented.

Ever since the Garda Siochana was established in 1922, one of its fundamental principles was that the force should be free from political influence.

Now the Commissioner has taken his leave in the midst of a public scandal, which has also engulfed the minister for justice.

On a political level, this is a huge victory for Leo Varadkar.

When the transport minister publicly criticised Callinan last week, he was immediately ordered to shut up by Enda Kenny.

After today's announcement, Varadkar has boosted his credentials as a future Taoiseach – and made the current Taoiseach look extremely weak as well.


However, the man who must be feeling most shell-shocked by Callinan's announcement is Alan Shatter.

By aligning himself so closely with the Garda Commissioner, Shatter always made it likely that they would sink or swim together.

Unless the justice minister goes into the Dail this week and consumes a massive portion of humble pie, it is hard to see how he can remain in place much longer.

After all, Callinan and Shatter are both guilty of the same mistake.

They were so hell-bent on protecting the Garda Siochana's reputation that they failed to adequately address the wrongdoing within the force.

Instead of keeping an open mind, they tried to discredit the two men who blew the whistle on cancelled penalty points – and ended up with egg on their face.

Clearly, Martin Callinan was partly the architect of his own downfall.

Today, however, the many good things that he did during his long garda career should also be remembered.

Over 41 years in uniform, he took on a host of notorious criminals including the General, Martin Cahill, and emerged victorious almost every time.

Under Callinan's watch in the Phoenix Park, both crime statistics and road deaths have steadily come down.


He has overseen huge reforms within the force at a time when resources were in precious short supply.

Whatever faults he may have shown during the penalty points controversy, this is clearly a man who has done the State some service.

Callinan is also a proud man. On a personal level, he must have been horrified by the sight of so many cabinet ministers lining up over the weekend to criticise his job performance.

With more reports on penalty points, the GSOC bugging and an explosive dossier of alleged garda misconduct all coming down the tracks, the Commissioner obviously decided that the game was no longer worth the candle – especially as he was officially due to retire next year anyway.

Martin Callinan has done the honourable thing.

Will Alan Shatter follow him?