THE GARDA COMMISSIONER Martin Callinan has resigned in a surprise move which follows months of controversy surrounding his handling of a number of issues within the force.
Callinan’s resignation has come amid increasing political pressure to withdraw remarks in which he described the actions of two garda whistleblowers as “disgusting”.
His departure comes without an apology to the two whistleblowers or a withdrawal of the remark. He has not yet commented on the reasons for stepping down.
Callinan had attempted to clarify his comments, made at the Public Accounts Committee in January, but this did little to ease pressure on him.
However, the ‘disgusting’ remark was not the only cloud hanging over Callinan. Here are six reasons why he may well have decided to step down today.
1. The political pressure
Five Labour Cabinet ministers and, significantly, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar have all said in the last week that Callinan should withdraw the ‘disgusting’ remark – a significant ramping up of the political pressure on the Commissioner after months of opposition TDs calling for him to go.
While TDs on the backbenches is one thing, the views of government ministers carry some weight and while none of them, at least publicly, were calling for him to step down, the fact there was a clear desire from one party in the coalition for him to withdraw the remarks meant that unless Callinan did so, there was going to be a big problem.
2. His relationship with Alan Shatter
It is well known that Callinan was close to Shatter but was he too close? That was the question many observers had been asking in recent months, particularly when it emerged that Callinan had given the Justice Minister information about independent TD Mick Wallace that the minister then used on RTÉ’s Prime Time.
Shatter extended Callinan’s term in office in 2012, expressing full confidence in the work and reforms he was carrying out (more of which below), but the lingering questions about the minister being too close and perhaps not critical enough of Callinan had a big impact on the public perception of their relationship.
3. Penalty points just wouldn’t go away
Callinan had to deal with a variety of issues in recent months, but penalty points was one that just wouldn’t go away. There were various offshoots from the issue itself – principally the relationship with and handling of the whistleblowers.
But leaving those aside the fact there are clear differences between an internal garda report into the cancellation of penalty points and those carried out by the Comptroller & Auditor General and the Garda Inspectorate left questions.
Callinan insisted that systems had been improved in the fixed charge processing system and the Garda Inspectorate expressed confidence that recommendations in its damning report would be implemented in full. But with a report by the Garda Ombudsman into the penalty points issue looming, it was set to remain on the agenda in the coming weeks.
4. The relationship with GSOC was poor
The relationship between the gardaí and its watchdog should not be a good one, it should be somewhat adversarial, but it should not be as toxic as it had become. So much so, the Garda Ombudsman felt compelled to make a point of stating that gardaí were not cooperating in investigations and handing over documentation in a prompt manner.
The alleged surveillance/bugging of the Garda Ombudsman – which both GSOC and the gardaí insist publicly showed no clear indication of garda involvement – had left questions that are currently being dealt with by a retired High Court judge whose report will no doubt dominate the news agenda when it is published and could raise more issues for Callinan.
5. Legacy issues
There are claims gardaí mishandled a number of serious cases involving abduction, assault and murder that are being looked at by a senior barrister. That report will no doubt raise more issues for the organisation.
In addition, the handling of the convicted drug dealer Kieran Boylan as a garda informant was the subject of a critical report from the Garda Ombudsman which examined accusations of collusion between gardaí and Boylan in the movement and supply of drugs. This raised more questions which remain unanswered.
Then there was the report of the Smithwick Tribunal into the murder of two RUC officers by the IRA after they had left Dundalk Garda Station in 1989. Callinan was horrified and accepted the Smithwick findings in full, but the report itself was scathing of “some misguided sense of loyalty” within the gardaí at the time.
6. He was due to retire anyway
In November 2012, Shatter extended Callinan’s term in office by two years – he had been due to retire when he turned 60 in August 2013 – which would have taken him up to August 2015, but there were indications that he may have decided to call it a day this August.
Announcing the extension at the time, Shatter noted: “At a time of such significant organisational reform, I believe that it is desirable that there should be continuity in Garda leadership, and I am delighted that Martin has agreed to this extension. His leadership over this period, during which there will be further challenges to be met, will be invaluable.”
It will be Callinan’s successor who will now faces those challenges.
All images: Photocall Ireland