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Kenny has to end the whistleblower saga and halt rift

Enda Kenny needs to take his head out of the sand. For several days he has been trying to dodge all questions about the garda whistleblower controversy and hoping that the whole embarrassing mess will magically disappear.

Instead, the Taoiseach's lack of leadership has only made things worse, resulting in a cabinet rift that may even have the potential to tear the government apart.

The penalty points saga has been long and complex, but right now it boils down to one simple question. Should Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan apologise for using the word "disgusting" at the Public Accounts Committee last January to describe whistleblowers?

Leo Varadkar, a few other Fine Gael ministers and the entire Labour Party say he should. Alan Shatter and Phil Hogan apparently believe that he shouldn't. The Taoiseach has simply wrung his hands and begged everyone to stop discussing the issue in public – an order that most of his colleagues clearly feel free to ignore.

Personal relations within the Cabinet are breaking down as well. According to some reports, Varadkar only went public with his concerns last week because Shatter refused to engage with him in private – not even by text message.

The transport and justice ministers are now said to be barely on speaking terms, which is deeply worrying since they both have responsibility for fixing our clapped-out penalty points system.

TENSE

Enda Kenny cannot stay sitting on the fence much longer. Tomorrow the Cabinet will meet in extremely tense circumstances, knowing that this is its worst internal crisis since the Government was elected three years ago.

On Thursday the Dail will hold a five-hour debate about the Garda Inspectorate report that finally proved Callinan wrong and whistleblowers right.

In other words, Kenny and the Government urgently need to get their story straight. One possible solution is for Callinan to formally withdraw the word "disgusting" without actually offering a full apology. This might not satisfy everybody, but it would probably be enough to secure the commissioner's position until his retirement next year.

Whether or not Callinan swallows his pride, he is not the only man whose job is under threat. As Fianna Fail made clear at its Ard Fheis over the weekend, Alan Shatter still has a big target sign painted on his back.

On Thursday the justice minister will be under pressure yet again to say sorry himself to the whistleblowers – and either way there are three more reports on alleged garda misconduct coming down the line that all have the potential to do him damage.

When Leo Varadkar made his dramatic intervention last week, it was seen by some as the first shot in his campaign to become the next Taoiseach. Maybe so, but these cabinet divisions also have echoes of the last FG leadership election.

REBELS

The rebels who supported Richard Bruton's heave in 2010 (Varadkar, Simon Coveney) have mostly taken the whistleblowers' side, while those who stuck by Enda Kenny (Shatter, Phil Hogan) are remaining loyal to the garda commissioner as well.

The Taoiseach must recognise the tide of public opinion. Enda Kenny, Alan Shatter and Martin Callinan each has a responsibility to take the heat out of this situation. Their first step must be to get rid of the explosive word "disgusting".

Otherwise, all three men risk fitting the description of another d-word – discredited.


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