Belfast Telegraph

Callinan urged to withdraw remarks

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was becoming increasingly isolated after senior Labour figures backed calls for him to withdraw his "disgusting" attack on whistleblowers.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is the most senior Government figure to urge the country's top policeman to revise criticism of the actions of former Garda John Wilson and serving Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

In the heat of the row, Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes has backed Mr Callinan's move to discipline Mr McCabe and bar him from accessing the internal intelligence system Pulse.

Mr Hawkes said the officer had a duty to report the malpractice in the penalty points system internally and to a politicians - as allowed under law - but that the Commissioner also had a duty to prevent further information being released.

"Essentially when that (whistleblower) report had been made and an investigation is being carried out, as far as we are concerned it was the duty of the Commissioner to prevent wholescale access to Garda information and even more so wholescale disclosure of it outside the force since the duty to report under whistleblowing policy had been met," Mr Hawkes said.

The Data Protection chief said he acknowledged the Garda whistleblowers have the right to approach members of the Oireachtas with corruption allegations but the Commissioner must also protect information held by the force.

Meanwhile, the calls for Mr Callinan to withdraw his attack on the whistleblowers - instigated yesterday by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar - have also been backed by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte.

The Labour Party said that view was shared by Mr Gilmore, and the party as a whole.

Last week policing watchdog the Garda Inspectorate found consistent and widespread wrongdoing within the force on abuse of the penalty points system and no meaningful evidence of good supervision - 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.

Mr Rabbitte stopped short of urging a retraction from the country's top policeman over his "disgusting" remark which he made while giving evidence on the controversy at a parliamentary committee.

But he warned a failure to do so would reignite controversy over abuse of the penalty points system.

He told RTE: "This saga looks like reigniting and I don't think that is in the interests of the Garda Siochana or the interests of public policy and I think the Garda Commissioner could bring it to a conclusion and I would hope that he will.

"Digging in our respective heels in this situation is not what's called for."

Mr Hawkes was brought into the controversy after his office was called in to examine abuse of the Garda Pulse system in 2011.

He said he fully supported the Commissioner's position that information from that internal intelligence system should not be given to the Public Accounts Committee.

But Mr Hawkes said the issue over access to and release of information from the Pulse system in relation to penalty points and abuse of the system only came into play after the whistleblowers had used the official avenues open to them to report suspected malpractice - the Garda Confidential Recipient and members of the Oireachtas.

Mr Callinan made the remarks about the whistleblowing during several hours of at times heated questioning at the parliamentary committee last January.

At the time he said it was a strong view but his view that 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.

When Mr Callinan faced initial calls to withdraw his remarks, a statement was issued from Garda headquarters to say he had clarified his use of the word "disgusting" last week.

It said the Commissioner had made the remark in reference to the manner in which "personal and sensitive data" was appearing in the public domain and not the the character of either Sgt McCabe or former Garda Wilson.

Mr Callinan said the release of information publicly was without regard to due process and fair procedures.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Mr Wilson has undergone surgery for bowel cancer which his wife Ann believes was caused by stress.

Tests are being carried out on a biopsy removed from his body during a procedure earlier this week.

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