How row over penalty points and whistleblowers boiled over
- 21 March 2014
- From the section Europe
A simmering row over drivers' penalty points and police whistleblowers has boiled over into a very public spat between ministers in the Irish coalition government.
Two whistleblowers, Sgt Maurice McCabe and now retired John Wilson, claimed that senior police officers had inappropriately wiped the penalty points from the driving licences of often well-connected offenders.
They made their allegations to the Public Accounts Committee of the parliament of the Republic of Ireland.
When the head of the police service, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, appeared before the committee he described the actions of the two as "disgusting".
Since then a report by the independent Garda Inspectorate found that there were consistent and widespread breaches of policy by those charged with administering the penalty points system.
The Inspectorate also found Sgt McCabe's information was "credible."
The whistleblowers believe they have been vindicated but neither expects an apology from the Garda Commissioner or Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
"They don't do apologies", John Wilson said.
But now two government ministers have expressed support for the two men.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said, at a road safety conference, that if he could choose one word to describe their actions it would be "distinguished" - a far cry from "disgusting" - and added that the Garda Commissioner "was not above criticism".
And then in Washington, the Social Protection Minister Joan Burton joined calls for Martin Callinan to withdraw his "disgusting" comment.
A police statement gave no indication that he would do so, but said he used the word in reference to "the manner in which personal and sensitive data was inappropriately appearing in the public domain without regard to due process and fair procedures" rather than "the character of either Sgt McCabe or former Garda John Wilson".
Minister Burton also told the Irish Times in Washington there "was very strong merit" in looking again at an independent police authority for An Garda Síochána as a similar body in Northern Ireland had worked very well for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
With Joan Burton, from Labour, and Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar clearly at odds with Alan Shatter from Fine Gael, attention will turn to how Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, deal with the issue.
The long-simmering row over penalty points is not over yet.