Tuesday 17 October 2017

Bailey tapes were straw that broke the camel's back

Ian Bailey took a civil action against the State alleging wrongful arrest
Ian Bailey took a civil action against the State alleging wrongful arrest
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The tapes scandal which triggered the series of events leading to the departure of former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, had its roots in one man's belief that he was persecuted by the Gardaí.

Ian Bailey took a civil action against the State alleging wrongful arrest over the murder of Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork in December, 1996.

The English-born ex-journalist was twice arrested by detectives, but never charged. He has always maintained his innocence and has unsuccessfully claimed that members of the force tried to frame him for the unsolved crime.

As a result of his lawsuit, in May, 2013, the High Court granted discovery orders requiring the State to hand over a wide range of records related to the murder case.

Over the following months, gardaí sifting through the records uncovered recordings linked to the Toscan du Plantier investigation. Some of these set off alarm bells and prompted fears the State's defence of the lawsuit might be adversely affected.

Mr Callinan became aware of the matter in late October of that year and issued a directive that the recording of phone calls should cease, except in the case of 999 calls.

Although the Fennelly Commission found it was "a matter of probability" he informed the then secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, of the existence of recordings some time after November 22, but the department was not formally informed until the following February by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor.

A letter from Mr Callinan to the department early in March 2014 did not find its way to the then Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, and within weeks a major political crisis was in full swing.

Mr Callinan was already on the ropes at the time following controversies over penalty points and his description of the behaviour of whistle-blowers as "disgusting".

Things reached boiling point when Leo Varadkar, who was then Minister for Transport, called for Mr Callinan to withdraw the remark. Other Fine Gael ministers stayed silent, but several Labour ministers agreed with Mr Varadkar, leaving the cabinet split.

When the Attorney General Maire Whelan briefed Taoiseach Enda Kenny about the existence of the tapes on March 23, it placed Mr Callinan in a very difficult position.

It was feared at the time there was the potential that gardaí had been involved in widespread and wholesale violations of the law by taping conversations.

Irish Independent

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