Belfast Telegraph

Garda left in turmoil after Republic's top cop Martin Callinan quits over bugging controversy

By Brian Hutton

The Irish police service is in turmoil after the force's chief dramatically stood down and the Government launched an inquiry into widespread bugging of Garda stations.

Just hours after Garda chief Martin Callinan dramatically quit his post, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the revelations were potentially so grave that a full statutory investigation was needed.

It is the biggest crisis to hit the gardai in three decades, since a previous commissioner resigned over the bugging of journalists' phones.

Mr Kenny said he was extremely concerned after being made aware by the Attorney General over the weekend of the taping and recording of phone conversations at police stations from the 1980s up until last November.

In a statement, the Government said: "In the context of ongoing legal proceedings in a particular case, the Government has learned that a system was in place in a large number of Garda stations whereby incoming and outgoing telephone calls were taped and recorded."

Mr Kenny warned the Dail the recording of phone calls by gardai could have enormous implications for "cases being heard, cases going through the courts, cases to be followed or maybe cases that were already dealt with".

A report by force watchdog the Garda Ombudsman last year into three officers convicted of assaulting Waterford man Anthony Holness alleged phone calls in and out of the city's Garda station were recorded.

The Garda and the Department of Justice have been ordered to report back to the coalition on the sensational claims.

The announcement followed the shock resignation of Callinan, who said he was retiring in the best interests of his family and the force after months of battling allegations of wrongdoing within his ranks. Mr Callinan's dramatic stand-down in a country unfamiliar with high-profile resignations has stunned those professionally closest to him, as well as senior Government figures, some of whom had demanded he withdraw controversial remarks about whistleblowers.

In a statement Mr Callinan said: "In the best interests of An Garda Siochana and my family, I have decided to retire.

"I felt that recent developments were proving to be a distraction from the important work that is carried out by An Garda Siochana on a daily basis."

The Garda chief did not deal any further with the controversies that have rocked his stewardship of the force. Mr Callinan tendered his resignation "with immediate effect" to the Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday morning, after coming under intense pressure in recent weeks to withdraw remarks he made about two whistleblowers within his ranks.

During a parliamentary watchdog hearing into abuse of the penalty points system by the force, the country's top police officer said only two officers out of 13,000 were making "extraordinary, serious allegations".

"Frankly I think it is quite disgusting, on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting," he said at the time.

The Garda chief was due to retire last August but the Justice Minister tweaked a ban on gardai serving past the age of 60 to allow the police chief to serve for two more years.

Amidst the extraordinary developments, the Government said it would move to set up an independent Garda authority to supervise the force.

BACKGROUND

The phone taping scandal is the fifth major controversy to rock the gardai in recent months, after the continuing fallout from a scandal in which high-profile motorists had fines and penalty points cancelled by gardai. There were also findings of collusion with the IRA by the Smithwick Tribunal, allegations the Garda watchdog was bugged and further allegations of mismanagement of investigations.

Dublin's Justice Minister Alan Shatter may be next to fall on his sword 

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