Book launch cited as one reason why letter was not given to Shatter
A BOOK launch has been cited as one of a number of reasons why Justice Minister Alan Shatter was not given an urgent letter from former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan warning of the garda tapes scandal.
The top civil servant at the Department of Justice, secretary general Brian Purcell, also admitted officials did not initially grasp the far-reaching consequences of what was contained in the letter.
The Government has been under pressure to explain why the March 10 letter was not brought to the attention of Mr Shatter for 15 days, despite the seriousness of its contents.
A report by Mr Purcell cited Mr Shatter's busy schedule after the letter arrived and the preoccupation of officials with the implications for the civil action being taken by Ian Bailey against the State as reasons why the minister was not alerted sooner about the systematic taping of calls in garda stations.
Mr Bailey is suing the State for alleged wrongful arrest over the murder of Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier in December 1996.
Mr Purcell said "the emphasis" of officials "was firmly concentrated on the Bailey case" after the letter from Mr Callinan revealed the existence of taped phone conversations involving gardai, witnesses and journalists.
"Even though the commissioner's letter of March 10 had referred to the systematic issue, there was little discussion of that particular issue and certainly not in any red flag manner," said Mr Purcell.
"It may be the case that the explosive nature of the recordings in the context of the high- profile Bailey case deflected attention from the systematic issue."
The report by Mr Purcell, released last night, went on to list a number of events and issues Mr Shatter and Mr Purcell himself had to attend to over the following days, by way of explanation as to why Mr Shatter was not briefed sooner.
These included the committee stage of the DNA data bill, a meeting of Fine Gael ministers, the publication of the Garda Inspectorate report on penalty points, and a book launch, all attended by Mr Shatter on March 12.
Mr Purcell had to attend the Dail's Public Accounts Committee on March 13.
Mr Shatter was at the Department of Defence on March 14. The following day he left for Mexico where he represented the Government on St Patrick's Day. Mr Purcell said he suffered a family bereavement and was away from his office from March 15 until March 24, when he finally briefed Mr Shatter.
The report details how there was ongoing consultation during this period between Mr Callinan, Data Control Commissioner Billy Hawkes and Attorney General Maire Whelan.
It said Ms Whelan advised that all of the recordings from garda stations around the country be brought together and an inventory made of them.