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Fergus O'Dowd RTÉ screengrab
Penalty Points

Minister: Garda whistleblowers should have their reputations reinstated

Fergus O’Dowd said he stood over his comments that “the whistleblowers did a fantastic job”.

Updated at 3.38pm

FINE GAEL MINISTER of State Fergus O’Dowd has said the reputations of the two garda whistleblowers should be ‘reinstated’.

Appearing on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics programme this afternoon, the Louth TD said he stood by comments made to local radio station LMFM on Friday, when he said “the whistleblowers did a fantastic job”.

His comments follow a tumultuous week for the Government, that has seen a split emerge between senior ministers on whether the Garda Commissioner should withdraw his remark that the actions of the two garda whistleblowers were “disgusting”.

The issue was put under renewed focus after Transport Minister Leo Varadkar called for Martin Callinan to withdraw the comments about John Wilson and Maurice McCabe’s actions in highlighting problems in the penalty points system.

Varadkar’s comments have been supported publicly by Labour ministers Joan Burton, Pat Rabbitte, Ruairí Quinn and Eamon Gilmore.

Asked about the issue on Friday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said ministers should discuss their views on the subject at the Cabinet table “rather than have them aired in public”.

O’Dowd repeated several times this afternoon that “nobody is above criticism” but didn’t directly express whether or not he thought the Commissioner should withdraw the ‘disgusting’ remark.

“Everybody’s free to express their opinion, but we have to govern,” O’Dowd said.

He said that “whistleblowers are very important part of our society” and that he was aware of the “difficulties they face”.

Asked how he expected the Government to deal with the situation in the coming days, O’Dowd said:

The Government makes its policy, and as I’ve said minister Shatter did exactly what he should have done.

The changes are taking place and they will be debated in the Dáil.

A garda spokesperson has already said Callinan will not be withdrawing the remarks —- and drew attention to a statement issued last week in which the Commissioner clarified what he meant and said the “disgusting” comment was “not in reference to the character” of Wilson or McCabe.

Speaking on Friday in Brussels, the Taoiseach said the Commissioner had “clarified his comments” and the context in which they were made.

“I acknowledge that he’s cooperating with Government in implementing the changes that are there,” Kenny said.

I acknowledge that these issues came to light through the work of whistleblowers — and because of that, there are now serious and fundamental changes now being made which will bring about a fair, transparent accountable and effective system.

The majority of Dáil time next Thursday will be given over to discussion of the Garda Inspectorate report into the penalty points system, which was published earlier this month.

The Inspectorate found “consistent and widespread breaches of policy by those charged with administering” the penalty points system and made 37 recommendations on how to improve practices.

Also speaking this afternoon, Environment Minister Phil Hogan said that he would not be giving his thoughts on the situation to the public, and would be reserving his views for Cabinet. He denied the suggestion that Fine Gael ministers had been silenced on the issue.

Hogan said that the Taoiseach wasa very wise man” with a lot of political experience and that he respected Kenny’s view that Ministers should speak about the issue in Cabinet rather than in public.

He insisted the issue would not damage the cohesion of the Cabinet, and added that he was happy that the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan’s position was tenable.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said today that the Garda Commissioner should withdraw his remarks about the whistleblowers – but that he was not calling on him to resign.

He accused Minister for Justice Alan Shatter of having led, in his view, an “unsavoury and unacceptable campaign” to “undermine the credibility of whistleblowers”.

Additional reporting, Aoife Barry.

First posted 1pm

Related: Varadkar says Callinan should withdraw ‘disgusting’ remarks – but gardaí say he won’t

Also: Garda whistleblowers’ use of PULSE system criticised by Data Commissioner

Read: The Tánaiste thinks the Garda Commissioner should withdraw ‘disgusting’ remark

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