The chief of the 26 County Garda police, Martin Callinan, resigned today after refusing to withdraw his condemnations of two whistleblowers who exposed corrupt practices in the force.
Callinan revealed his decision this morning to Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who has also come under pressure to quit.
Both have been embroiled in a series of scandals, the most damaging of which were revelations that the new system of motoring offences in the state was being operated by the police in a corrupt manner.
Callinan told a parliamentary committee the claims were “disgusting”, but he was urged to withdraw his remarks after an independent report supported the whistleblowers and recommended major reform of the system.
Sgt Maurice McCabe and now-retired John Wilson had revealed that senior police had inappropriately wiped the penalty points from the driving licences of well-connected offenders. They also revealed they had been bullied, marginalised and intimidated by the force for bringing the matter to public attention.
They made their allegations as part of an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee of the Dublin parliament.
It was also revealed that some of those who had penalties removed from their driving record were subsequently involved in serious or fatal accidents.
When Mr Callinan appeared before the committee, he described the actions of the two as “disgusting”.
Since then, a report by the independent Garda Inspectorate vindicated the two men and found that there were consistent and widespread breaches of policy by those charged with administering the penalty points system. The inspectorate found Sgt McCabe’s information was “credible”.
Callinan had appeared set to brazen out the scandal, and was supported in doing so by senior members of the coalition government. However, a rift opened in the Cabinet last week, with Labour Ministers Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton and Fine Gael’s Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar insisting that Callinan withdraw his comments and effectively apologise to the whistleblowers.
His resignation this morning was seen a shock, given the Cabinet was to meet to discuss the controversy over his remarks.
The Cabinet meeting is still underway, with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter expected to comment on the situation later.
Sinn Fein Justice Spokesperson Padraig Mac Lochlainn said Callinan had made the right decision.
“From the moment that the allegations from the two Garda Whistleblowers, Maurice McCabe and John Wilson, emerged about widespread malpractice of the penalty points issue the Garda Commissioner sought to downplay and even dismiss the allegations,” he said.
“Worse, he repeatedly sought to discredit the credibility of the two whistleblowers which culminated in the outrageous ‘disgusting’ comment at the Public Accounts Committee.
“The findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General and more recently the Garda Inspectorate vindicated the core allegations of the whistleblowers and posed serious questions for the management of An Garda Siochana by Commissioner Callinan.
“Furthermore the provocative language he used following the allegations that the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission offices had been bugged once again demonstrated poor leadership.
“However, what all of these episodes in recent years have clearly demonstrated is a need for an Independent Policing Authority, accountable to an Independent Policing Board, similar to what is in place in the North of Ireland and increased powers given to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.
“My party’s focus will be on these urgent and necessary changes moving forward.”