During the summer a senior Government TD made an appearance on a national radio show in the midst of another week of controversy surrounding An Garda Síochána.
Usually TDs or Senators are given some form of guidance from above on how to react when various topics are raised. Nóirín O’Sullivan, again at the centre of political debate, was bound to come up during the broadcast. The TD was told to hold the line and defend O’Sullivan, but not to “die in a ditch” for her.
The incident accurately summed up the attitude of the Government towards the now former Garda commissioner in recent months: they were not going to agitate for her removal and they would defend her, but they were also creating a bit of distance should she have to step aside, which she did to general surprise on Sunday.
Given the experience the Fine Gael-Labour government had when Martin Callinan, O’Sullivan’s predecessor, retired – when Enda Kenny faced accusations that he effectively sacked Callinan by sending a senior civil servant to his home – it was unlikely Ministers would attempt to push O’Sullivan from her post.
When asked if anything would be done about her position, Government sources shrugged that they would ideally like it if she was not commissioner any longer, but believed there was nothing they could do.
But distance was being created, even though the timing of the retirement announcement was a surprise. One Minister said that, in the wake of the internal Garda report into the fake breath tests controversy published last week, the discussion had moved on.
“The discussion was not about her position at all,” the Minister said of last week’s Cabinet meeting. “If anything, it was about how the problem was far bigger than one person. The Opposition were saying that too.”
There was concern, however, that a forthcoming external report into the breath tests, commissioned by the Policing Authority, may have brought further trouble.
Against that backdrop, officials in the Department of Justice are understood to have been contacted by O’Sullivan, or by someone acting on her behalf, in the past week and the prospect of her retirement was raised.
They in turn contacted officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to get clarity on the level of O’Sullivan’s gratuity payment and her pension.
A spokesman for the Taoiseach said he was only notified on Sunday evening of O’Sullivan’s decision to retire. Up to that, the spokesman said, Varadkar was only aware she “was considering the possibility of retiring”.
Ministers had no choice but to continue to express support for O’Sullivan even if the statements were given as arrangements were being made for her departure.
In her own retirement statement O’Sullivan thanked Varadkar, Flanagan, Kenny and Frances Fitzgerald, the former minister for justice, for their support.
There was sympathy for her in political circles even among those who had called for her to go given the intense period of numerous controversies that marked her stewardship of An Garda Síochána.
“On a personal level, would you put up with anything more of that day in, day out?”asked one TD.