Callinan should come out and give a no-holds-barred account of what happened

JUST when you thought it was safe to go out, the whole shebang has caught fire again.

This leg involves the departed commissioner, the reporter, and a mysteriously powerful official in the Department of Justice. Was Martin Callinan effectively fired, and, if so, why?

RTÉ’s crime correspondent Paul Reynolds has some excellent contacts in An Garda Síochána. Yesterday, he had a scoop broadcast on the News At One.

He had persuaded ‘sources close to Martin Callinan’ to tell all about how the former commissioner feels about the various controversies, and the manner of his leaving.

For those who don’t live in a media bubble, ‘sources close to’ is often a euphemism for an ‘off the record’ briefing from he to whom the sources are close. It would be reasonable to assume that Reynolds’ ‘sources’ were so good that they may well have looked back from the mirror when Mr Callinan shaves of a morning.

First off, there was the ‘disgusting’ remark. According to Reynolds, the source says that Callinan never intended his words to mean that he was disgusted by the allegations being made by the whistleblowers.

“He knew it was wrong immediately after he came out [of the Public Accounts committee meeting on January 23]. He told me himself. The issue was he was disgusted by the fact that the whistleblowers were printing off confidential and sensitive data from the Pulse system … however, he knew the word wasn’t the correct word to use.”

This is the same reasoning given by Callinan to explain the “disgusting” remark when he issued a “clarification” on March 12. It simply doesn’t wash. There was nothing about Pulse in what he said at the meeting.

He had said that out of a force of 13,000 people, only two were making “extraordinary serious allegations” and that there wasn’t “a whisper” from elsewhere in the force about “corruption or malpractice”.

Why didn’t he ask Reynolds after the PAC meeting to immediately report that “sources close to the commissioner” wanted to clarify the remark? He waited over six weeks until the publication of the damning Garda inspectorate’s report into the penalty points to issue his “clarification”.

Then the reporter moved onto the juicy stuff. On Thursday, March 20, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said that Callinan should withdraw the remark. According to the “source”, the commissioner considered doing so.

The following day, he consulted with “at least one official” in the Department of Justice, who advised him not to.

“Their advice was not to say anything, don’t withdraw [the remark] because then you might have to apologise and if you apologise that mightn’t be enough,” Reynolds said the source told him.

THIS is serious stuff. If correct, then somebody in the department harboured hostility towards the whistleblowers, and didn’t want Callinan to retract what was an insult. Reynolds didn’t have the department’s version of this, but later yesterday a spokesman issued a statement to the Irish Examiner.

“Towards the end of last week there were discussions about the possibility of his [Callinan] making a further statement in relation to those comments and the form any such statement might take. There was no question of the department suggesting that this possibility be ruled out.”

So they may have advised him against saying anything. If he was advised to stay schtum, why? Did Alan Shatter know or approve of any such advice if it was given? What does that say about department attitudes to the whistleblowers?

Another issue is why Callinan was engaging with the department on this matter. He’s a big boy, who made his own remarks, a Garda commissioner who should decide whether or not to retract what he had said.

Then we moved on to the manner of his leaving. Last Monday, Callinan was visited at home by the secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell. The senior civil servant was running an errand for Enda Kenny. The previous day, Kenny had been briefed on the Garda station tape recording business.

“The secretary general explained that there were differences around the cabinet table in relation to this issue,” Reynolds quoted the source. “That there may or may not be a difficulty for him in Cabinet. The commissioner was left to consider overnight. The next day he spoke with the secretary general [again] who informed him that this situation had not improved.”

As a result, Callinan “handed in his resignation”. So he was pushed, kind of, maybe, definitely. The only problem with this version is that there couldn’t have been differences around the Cabinet table on the recording issue, because the Cabinet didn’t know about it. As Pat Rabbitte pointed out on the same programme, the only Cabinet members who knew about it on Monday evening were Kenny and Alan Shatter. Did they mull over Callinan’s fate?

Presenter Richard Crowley asked Reynolds the burning question. “Did he retire, or was he pushed, or was he handed his hat and told ‘what’s your hurry’?” “His view is people can make up their own mind on that,” he replied.

The only satisfactory outcome would be for the former commissioner to ditch his sources and come out and give a frank interview about the whole affair. And I know just the man who could put him through a rigorous, no-holds-barred interrogation.

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