Monday 22 January 2018

'Disgusting' jibe comes back to haunt Callinan

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan's unfortunate choice of words when he labelled the actions of Garda whistleblowers 'disgusting' has come back to haunt him, along with Justice Minister Alan Shatter and the entire Coalition.

The wonder is that such a monumental blunder could ever have been allowed to fester to the point where it could destabilise the Government.

Any fool could see there was trouble ahead once the word 'disgusting' came out of Commissioner Callinan's mouth at a Public Accounts Committee hearing in January where the quashing of penalty points was being discussed. Commenting on the 'two people, out of a force of over 13,000 who are making extraordinary and serious allegations... about this corruption, malpractice and other charges levelled against their fellow officers', the Commissioner said: 'Frankly, on a personal level, I think it is disgusting.'

Commissioner Callinan was immediately given an opportunity to modify the tenor of his comments by Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald who pointed out that 'disgusting' was a very strong word that would go hard with the whistleblowers who had gone out on a limb to expose wrongdoing. But the Commissioner wasn't for turning and in the intervening weeks he has shown no inclination to back down proving, if nothing else that he has the courage of his convictions.

As a man steeped in the culture and the ethos of the force it isn't entirely surprising that Commissioner Callinan might find it disgusting 'on a personal level' that on Garda would speak out against another. However, at a time when there is considerable disquiet about how so many penalty points disappeared off the system, he finds himself out of sync with public opinion.

Worse still a weight of political opinion is moving against him, most notably with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar calling on him to withdraw the 'disgusting' comment - and thereby openly defying the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice who have been at pains to avoid the issue.

That Commissioner's Callinan's remarks at the Public Accounts Committee hearing in January could be allowed fester and develop into an open wound in this way is an indictment of how the Government runs its affairs. It was perfectly clear from the outset that the Commissioner's 'disgusting' remark wasn't going to go away. But instead of tackling the issue head on the Government resorted to a familiar pattern of obfuscation and double-speak.

If there is such a thing as a learning curve within this Government, then our leaders might do us – and themselves - the favour of taking a step back and admitting they have made an almighty mess of this "disgusting" episode and then take the action that should have been taken in January.

In the interest of openness and transparency, they could then take the lesson forward and make a point of using clear, simple, honest language in their communications with the public. For example, they could admit that spending cuts in health education means less services, not a rationalisation of services and that property tax is in fact a tax, not a charge for services. And that's just for starters.

New Ross Standard

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