The possibility of whistle-blowers coming forward to expose wrongdoing is under renewed threat in the 26 Counties after the Garda police chief announced to a Dail parliamentary committee that he would take legal action to prevent any current or former Garda member speaking to them.
One of the whistleblowers has been invited to give evidence next Thursday, while a second one, a retired garda, has indicate he also wishes to appear before the committee.
Both have made serious allegations about the ad-hoc cancellation of motoring offences by members of the force on behalf of certain well-connected members of Irish society.
The penalty points system of motoring offences was introduced in Ireland in October 2002. In recent years, it has been claimed that up to 25% of the infractions (and fines) incurred have been cancelled following interventions by senior Garda and other civil servants, with spurious reasons provided for doing so.
The beneficiaries have included elite members of Irish society, such celebrities, members of the judiciary, bankers, developers, politicians and senior Garda themselves.
The Dublin parliament’s Policial Accounts Committee is currently examining the loss of income arising from the cancellation of the fines involved, and this week it heard testimony from Garda chief Martin Callinan.
For a second week running, the committee’s hearings were eventful. Thus a blustering, belligerent Callinan denied the corruption claims, and said the actions of the whistleblowers and the allegations they have made are “quite disgusting”.
He suggested the two whistleblowers in question “may very well be misguided on the state of the information they have” and said he would seek legal advice to prevent any further release by them of “confidential” Garda information.
Although gaining little traction with the committee members,he insisted this was not a case of “circling the wagons”.
“My personal view is that a member of An Garda Siochana, serving or retired, should not be using this forum to discuss matters of this importance,” he said.
“It will certainly have an adverse affect on the maintenance of discipline and good order in An Garda Siochana,” he added.
The commissioner said he could not allow a situation where he would be “usurped by subordinates”.
He also took exception to comments by one of the members of the committee that the controversy was “a national scandal”. “What is the national scandal here?” he said, without irony.
Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald reiterated her view that the Garda whistleblowers must be afforded the opportunity to state their case before the committee.
“Any effort by the Commissioner to obstruct the work of the committee would send out the wrong signal regarding the accountability and transparency of An Garda Siochana,” she said.
“Following the Comptroller and Auditor General’s findings regarding the termination of Fixed Penalty Notices the Public Accounts Committee has a duty to establish if the appropriate cost controls and good governance procedures were adhered to by the gardai.
“In addition the PAC has an interest in establishing that the procedures within An Garda Siochana to appropriately facilitate Whistleblowers are fit for purpose.”