Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Apology urged in whistleblower case

Leo Varadkar said the two officers involved in revealing the long-running penalty points scandal should be described as distinguished

A Government minister has called on Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to apologise to whistleblowers whom he attacked for exposing abuse of the penalty points system.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the two officers involved in revealing the long-running scandal should be described as distinguished - a thinly veiled reference to the Commissioner's description of their actions as "disgusting".

"I do think that remark should be withdrawn," the minister said.

"My only interest in this is road safety. If people feel like making an apology that's up to them because there's no point in making an apology that isn't sincere."

Mr Varadkar said the Commissioner is not above criticism.

He said he wanted to thank the whistleblowers, former Garda John Wilson and serving Sergeant Maurice McCabe, who handed documents detailing extensive abuse of the penalty points system to politicians after failing to get their concerns acted on internally.

Last week a watchdog found consistent and widespread wrongdoing within the force on the issue.

The Garda Inspectorate found no meaningful evidence of good supervision of the system - a finding Mr Varadkar said was in stark contrast to the outcome of an internal review of the allegations by Assistant Commissioner John O'Mahony.

The minister urged Mr Callinan to withdraw his comments about the whistleblowers' actions being "disgusting" which he made while giving evidence on the controversy at a parliamentary committee.

"I think the Commissioner should withdraw that remark which was made on the record of the Dail and make any other corrections he needs to make to the testimony," Mr Varadkar said.

In an address to a Road Safety Authority conference in Dublin, the minister said he understood criticism of the whistleblowers but did not agree with it.

He said they only released the information from outside Garda ranks after going through official internal channels and ultimately used members of the Oireachtas to address concerns, as provided for in legislation.

"Speaking on my own behalf and on behalf of the thousands of families who have had to endure the pain and loss that flows from the death of a loved one on the road, I want to thank Sergeant McCabe and Mr Wilson," he said.

"They may not have got everything right but they did shine a light into a dark place and forced those who would rather turn a blind eye to face up to the truth.

"There have been many words used to describe their actions. But if I was to use one word, the word I would use is distinguished."

In a statement issued by Garda Headquarters, Mr Callinan said he had already clarified his use of the word "disgusting" last week.

The commissioner had said the remark did not refer to the character of either Sgt McCabe or former Garda Wilson but the manner in which "personal and sensitive data" was appearing in the public domain

Mr Callinan said this was without regard to due process and fair procedures.

"The Commissioner also gave his commitment last week to work closely with all the relevant stakeholders involved in the Criminal Justice Working Group's examination of how best to implement the Garda Inspectorate's recommendations (on the penalty points system) in the short, medium and long-term," the statement said.

"As part of an on-going process, several recommendations contained in the Garda Inspectorate's recent report on the system are already well advanced by An Garda Siochana."

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins said an apology was needed from Mr Varadkar's cabinet and party colleague Justice Minister Alan Shatter over the affair.

Mr Collins said: "It seems to me that the Commissioner has been taking his lead from minister Shatter throughout this controversy.

"It's all very well for Minister Varadkar to focus on the Garda Commissioner's role, but as long as minister Shatter refuses to acknowledge the damage he has caused by misleading the Dail and undermining the character of Sergeant McCabe, this injustice will continue.

"Minister Varadkar would be best placed speaking to his own colleague, minister Shatter, about how he has treated the whistleblowers and his ongoing refusal to admit that he was wrong."

Mr Shatter claimed that the whistleblowers had refused to co-operate with the internal Garda inquiry into the scandal which had been rejected by their supporters.

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