Minister of state Finian McGrath’s climbdown on Sunday came after demands from Fine Gael ministers that he withdraw criticism of gardaí.
In an interview in a Sunday newspaper, Mr McGrath said gardaí were carrying out unnecessary breathalyser check-points because they opposed controversial new drink-driving laws.
Yesterday, a Government spokesperson and a spokesperson for the Independent Alliance both said they are not aware of anyone contacting Mr McGrath on Sunday asking him to withdraw his garda political policing comments.
Asked during a post-Cabinet press briefing if the Taoiseach or any other Fine Gael minister had been in touch with Mr McGrath on Sunday, a Government spokesperson said she was not aware of any contact.
Asked during the same briefing if any member of the Independent Alliance had been in contact with Mr McGrath, forcing him to withdraw his comments, an Independent Alliance spokesperson said she has not been told of any conversations on the matter and that Mr McGrath took the decision to retract the comments by himself.
However, the Irish Examiner has learned that throughout Sunday, a flurry of phone calls behind the scenes passed between Fine Gael members of Cabinet and Independent Alliance members of Government, who were urged to demand that Mr McGrath retract his comments.
It is understood that Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was adamant that Mr McGrath immediately withdraw the comments and made his views known.
“He told us we had to get Finian to withdraw the remarks,” said one source. “We could not have a minister sitting at the Cabinet table saying such things about the force.”
However, it has also emerged that Mr McGrath’s Alliance colleagues — Transport Minister Shane Ross, John Halligan, and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran — were “livid” with him, particularly for putting pressure on Mr Ross.
Mr McGrath and Mr Ross have enjoyed a close friendship over the years, but Alliance sources have made clearthat this issue has “driven a wedge between them, it’s bad”.
Mr McGrath, who is a very popular member of Government, has held his hands up and admitted he “cocked up” but insisted he never meant any offence to the families of victims affected by drink driving.
On Sunday afternoon, he apologised “unreservedly” to the families of road accident victims and to the gardaí. A statement came in the wake of calls for him to resign over the comments in which he claimed gardaí had become politicised.
Mr McGrath said: “I am aware that my comments regarding the gardaí and drink driving have caused hurt to families and victims who continue to suffer the consequences of drink driving.
“It was never my intention to cause pain and I wish to unreservedly apologise to them and also to our gardaí.”