herald

Thursday 31 July 2014

Buck must stop somewhere in garda scandal

The former US President Harry Truman famously kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that read: "The buck stops here."

In the continuing saga of Alan Shatter and garda misbehaviour, however, the buck is still flying all over the place.

After several weeks of allegations, insults and bombshells, nobody has yet put their hand up and accepted responsibility for anything, which is why public confidence in our political and justice systems is taking such a battering.

Like so many scandals, the garda bugging story comes down to a few basic questions – who knew what and when?

The official timeline of contacts between GSOC, the Garda Commissioner, the Attorney General and Shatter himself is full of strange gaps that urgently need to be explained.

POISONOUS

Even Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, whose relationship with Shatter has reportedly become poisonous, admitted yesterday: "I have difficulty in getting my head around it."

Somebody, somewhere is either guilty of gross incompetence or has been loose with the facts – but it will apparently take a long and expensive Commission of Investigation to find out.

Shatter finally did the decent thing yesterday by apologising to garda whistleblowers John Wilson and Maurice McCabe in the Dail.

Unfortunately, it came six months too late and only after his colleagues had effectively put a gun to his head.

On the issue of garda tape recordings, the Minister is sticking to his remarkable story that he knew nothing about it until Monday evening – four months after the Attorney General was fully briefed by the Garda Commissioner.

Martin Callinan himself has headed for the exit door, but he is not exactly wearing sackcloth and ashes either.

The former Commissioner's resignation statement made no mention of the whistleblowers whose actions he regarded as "disgusting" or the bugging claims that have devastated his old colleagues.

If Callinan has any regrets about his job performance in recent months, he apparently decided to keep them to himself.

As for Enda Kenny, his hear-no-evil-see-no-evil approach remains fully intact. The Taoiseach has been forced to deny opposition claims that he sent a senior civil servant to effectively sack Callinan on Monday night.

It certainly appears that hell will have to freeze over before he sends anyone to relieve the Minister for Justice of his duties.

To sum up, it appears that nobody is to blame for the nightmare that may be about to engulf our justice system.

Already we have seen one court case adjourned in the Central Criminal Court, as lawyers for two men charged with IRA membership are trying to determine whether telephone calls made by their clients from garda stations were recorded.

If even half of the rumours now swirling around other notorious cases are true, this will be just the tip of a particularly dangerous iceberg.

In other words, illegal garda taping is not a victimless crime. It could mean that people subjected to rape, kidnapping or even murder will fail to receive full justice.

We can only imagine the hurt it is causing to thousands of ordinary, decent gardai who do heroic work every day and deserve better political leaders than the ones they are saddled with at the moment.

This is why all the buck- passing we have seen from official circles this week is just not good enough.

GRUDGING

Not from Alan Shatter, not from Martin Callinan, and certainly not from the Taoiseach, who declared on the night of his election triumph: "Paddy likes to know what the story is".

Shatter's grudging apology has probably bought him more time. By now, however, the Minister has surely used up eight of his nine political lives.

He is also fighting a battle on several fronts, with details of garda bugging, penalty points and dodgy dossiers set to carry on making headlines for months to come.

Irish history is full of scandals in which none of the wrongdoers was ever held accountable.

Garda-gate cannot be allowed to become another one.

Opinion

Entertainment News