Another grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented moment with echoes of the past

YESTERDAY morning, the resignation of Martin Callinan was just your bog-standard shocking development. By the afternoon, unfolding events had reached back into history and landed on the shores of Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, Unprecedented.

More than 30 years after the original GUBU moment, here was another one.

For those who believe in coincidences, the Garda commissioner’s resignation was not connected with the Government statement issued five hours later to the effect that the Cabinet had been informed that all incoming and outgoing calls from a number of Garda stations were routinely taped. The news was regarded with such seriousness that the Government immediately announced the setting up of a commission of inquiry.

Before that bombshell was delivered, it all appeared straightforward. Callinan was going to walk rather than eat humble pie. He couldn’t bring himself to withdraw his “disgusting” remark, which he had used to describe the actions of the two garda whistleblowers. In reality, the remark was symptomatic of the general hostility directed at the two garda whistleblowers — and Sergeant Maurice McCabe in particular — since they began to complain about malpractice.

A fortnight ago, a Garda Inspectorate report found that most of what McCabe and former garda John Wilson had alleged turned out to have a sound basis. How, then, could their activities be described as “disgusting”? All it took was for Leo Varadkar to say that which was well-known by the dogs on the street: The whistleblowers had done the State a service, and deserved gratitude rather than insults.

Once that truth was out in the open, the commissioner had the choice of eating humble pie or taking the high road. Apart from a refusal to address mistakes of the recent past, his decision may well have been informed by events coming down the line in the near future.

The investigation being conducted by senior counsel Sean Guiren is due to report by Easter. This involves the examination of complaints made by McCabe into the investigation of serious crime.

If Sean Guiren finds that the investigations were less than satisfactory — as claimed by McCabe — then a commission of inquiry will have to be established. So far, McCabe has been proved correct on nearly all counts. If he were also to be shown to be right in relation to serious shortcomings in criminal investigations — and the internal inquiries into those investigations — then further pressure would have piled up on Callinan.

Then there is the bombshell. Did Callinan’s morning resignation come in anticipation of the afternoon revelation about wholesale taping of phone conversations in Garda stations? On the face of it, a connection is possible. The matter was brought to the Cabinet on foot of a current court case. The suggestion is that in the process of discovery for this case, the practice of taping phone calls in a Garda station was discovered and raised questions as to its prevalence.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny says it was brought to his attention on Sunday. Did the prospect of this development landing on the commissioner’s lap prompt him to get out before he might be shown the door?

The only problem with such a theory is that this is not a new story. A GSOC report last year referenced the practice. The case involved allegations of assault against four gardaí in Waterford. Two of the four were convicted, and GSOC compiled a report on the case. It pointed out it had obtained a recording of a phone conversation between one of the officers and the assault victim. The recording was obtained from the phone system in Waterford station, and included in the prosecution of the four gardaí.

According to GSOC’s report, “the Garda commissioner may wish to re-evaluate his practice regarding the recording of such calls”.

The Government’s statement yesterday also pointed out that the practice was discontinued last November. Again, why should it come to light now?

It may well be that it is entirely a coincidence. But between that and Callinan’s resignation, the pressure has been eased on the justice minister. Where does he stand now? Shatter should still be compelled to correct the record. Obtaining high office does not give him the right to attack the character of others with impunity.

He took his lead on the whole matter from Callinan, never once apparently even making independent inquiries as to the possible bone fides of the whistleblowers. He failed dismally to protect the two men, and instead appeared to endorse the hostility shown by senior management in the force.

He showed no compunction in throwing his friend Oliver Connolly, the former confidential recipient, overboard. Now the commissioner is also gone. Shatter stands alone, unrepentant. If he isn’t prepared to at least apologise to the whistleblowers, he should follow Callinan out of power. It’s make your mind up time, minister.

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