Irish police chief quits in corruption scandal

DUBLIN (AFP) - Ireland's police chief resigned Tuesday as a political and media storm raged over his handling of long-running allegations concerning the corrupt enforcement of traffic laws.

Garda commissioner Martin Callinan announced he was stepping down with immediate effect following repeated criticism of his use of the word "disgusting" to describe the actions of police whistleblowers.

Mr Callinan, who joined the Garda almost 41 years ago and rose to the rank of commissioner in 2010, made the comments before a parliamentary committee in January.

Two police whistleblowers have claimed there is widespread manipulation of Ireland's traffic laws, namely the penalty points system - whereby drivers get points on their licences for infringements.

They claimed fellow officers were using their discretionary powers to wipe offences from the system. Politicians, celebrities and even the commissioner himself has had points removed.

"I felt that recent developments were proving to be a distraction from the important work that is carried out by An Garda Siochana on a daily basis for the citizens of the state in an independent and impartial manner," Mr Callinan said in a statement.

Mr Callinan has also recently denied that his force was involved in the suspected bugging of an independent Garda watchdog, which is responsible for investigating complaints against the force.

The Irish police system is supposed to be apolitical but it has become a political minefield for the coalition government with debates raging in parliament and the media in recent months.

Cabinet ministers were due to discuss whether Mr Callinan should apologise for his comments on Tuesday morning, following calls from some senior politicians.

The justice spokesman for opposition party Sinn Fein said Mr Callinan made the right decision to resign.

"From the moment that the allegations from the two Garda whistleblowers emerged about widespread malpractice of the penalty points issue the Garda Commissioner sought to downplay and even dismiss the allegations," Padraig Mac Lochlainn said.

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