March 29 - Government must protect trust in gardai

It is too early to speculate on what the long-term effects of this week’s extraordinary developments in the justice system might be.

It is too early to speculate on what the long-term effects of this week’s extraordinary developments in the justice system might be.

The resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is to be welcomed. His arrogant and truculent performance before the Public Accounts Committee in relation to penalty points had the air of somebody who protested too much.

And he was surely insulting the intelligence of the Irish people in seeking to resile from his now infamous description of the Garda whistleblowers as “disgusting”.

It was the Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar who captured the mood of the nation in seeking a retraction from Mr Callinan. That Enda Kenny immediately sought to rebuke Minister Varadkar for talking out of class does not reflect well on the Taoiseach.

Michael Noonan – who would also have preferred if Mr Varadkar had kept his own counsel until cabinet – made the point this week that the state owed an enormous debt to the Commissioner for his role in fighting subversives. That may be the case but the Commissioner’s utterances in recent weeks have been unbecoming of the most senior police officer in the land.

While Fianna Fail’s justice spokesman Niall Collins has been scathing in his criticism of the policy of closing down rural garda stations in Limerick, he has not directly criticised the garda managers implementing that policy. Nor had Fianna Fail sought the resignation of the Commissioner over the whistleblowers.

Deputy Collins has instead focused his attention on a Minister for Justice who by all accounts is not even popular among his own backbenchers. And the Limerick TD has landed plenty of punches on Alan Shatter in recent weeks.

Criminal lawyers up and down the land must be salivating at the prospect of reopening cases where their clients’ phone calls may or may not have been recorded at garda stations, arguing full disclosure had not been given to defence teams.

For Michael Noonan, the fresh bugging controversy must bring back vivid memories of the scandal involving the tapping of journalists phones which he revealed as Minister for Justice in 1983.

Deputy Collins wonders whether the extraordinary timing of the revelations, coinciding with the Callinan resignation, is not a political smokescreen.

If Alan Shatter only this week became aware of a letter sent to his department two weeks ago – in which the Commissioner outlined details of the recordings – then the Minister should follow Mr Callinan out of office for incompetence alone, Deputy Collins has argued.

Politics aside, the appointment of a new commissioner is one of the most important in the history of the state. An Garda Siochana has served the people of Ireland with distinction since 1923 and survey after survey has shown they are more trusted than politicians, lawyers, or for that matter journalists.

The people of Limerick have suffered more than most from serious crime and our local gardai have been extraordinarily successful in putting behind bars some of the most dangerous criminals this state has ever produced. It would be a disservice to those serving men and women if the government did not move swiftly to protect that trust.

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