Former garda commissioner Martin Callinan delayed withdrawing his use of the word "disgusting" to describe the behaviour of garda whistleblowers following advice from Department of Justice officials, according to sources close to him.

Mr Callinan was considering withdrawing the controversial remark last week but delayed after consulting the officials, the sources said.

The commissioner passed up an opportunity to clarify his use of the word last Friday when the Data Protection Commissioner published his report, which contained criticism of the whistleblowers, they added.

The Department of Justice Secretary General told Mr Callinan, when he called to his home last Monday night, that there was disquiet at Cabinet level about the information on phone recordings in garda stations given to the Taoiseach over the weekend by the Attorney General.

Mr Callinan and the secretary general are understood to have spoken again on Tuesday morning in advance of the Cabinet meeting.

Mr Callinan decided to retire after being told that the position at Cabinet level had not changed overnight.

He said in his retirement statement on Tuesday morning that he was retiring "in the best interests of An Garda Síochána and my family".

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said this evening that there were ongoing discussions between officials and Mr Callinan about issues relating to the penalty points controversy.

However, she said there was no question of a retraction being ruled out.

She said: "At all times it was recognised that the question of the commissioner making any further statement in relation to comments he had made at the Public Accounts Committee and the content of any such statement was a matter for decision by the former commissioner himself.

"Towards the end of last week there were discussions about the possibility of his making a further statement in relation to those comments and the form any such statement might take.

"There was no question of the department suggesting that this possibility be ruled out.

"These ongoing discussions were, unfortunately, overtaken by subsequent events."

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said it was a pity that Mr Callinan had not withdrawn the remarks.

He said it was news to him that the former commissioner had delayed withdrawing his remarks following advice from Department of Justice officials.

But he said reports that the former commissioner was told that he had better resign because there was conflict in Cabinet regarding the recordings were not true.

Asked if he believed the Mr Callinan was "pushed", he said that he had no idea what transpired between the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and the former commissioner. 

He said Mr Callinan said in statement that he was retiring and had explained his reasons for doing so.

Mr Rabbitte said he was prepared to take the statement issued by Mr Callinan at face value.