Thursday 29 September 2016

Communications in Government criticised in Fennelly Commission report

Evidence of witnesses scrutinised for conflicts

Fionnan Sheahan and Niall O'Connor

Published 01/09/2015 | 17:31

Tuesday 01 September 2015. Science Gallery TCD. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is met by RTE Director General, Noel Curran on right and Ronan Mac Con Ionaire, RTE Head of Language on left.
Tuesday 01 September 2015. Science Gallery TCD. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is met by RTE Director General, Noel Curran on right and Ronan Mac Con Ionaire, RTE Head of Language on left.
Tuesday 01 September 2015. Science Gallery TCD. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is met by RTE Director General, Noel Curran.
Tuesday 01 September 2015. Science Gallery TCD. L to R: Blathnaid Treacy, presenter RTE, Ronan Mac Con Ionaire, RTE Head of Language Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Noel Curran Director General, RTE, Eoghan McDermott, presenter RTE.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

The internal Government communications around the secret taping of phone calls at Garda stations is criticised in the inquiry into the affair, Independent.ie understands.

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The Fennelly Commission's report is due to be published soon and contains scrutiny of the evidence offered by some witnesses to see if there are any conflicts.

The key issue for Mr Justice Niall Fennelly is whether Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a role in forcing out former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in March 2014.

The handling of aspects of the phone call taping crisis is criticised.

The tone of the report is described as critical of the way the controversy was dealt with by the Coalition.

One of the most significant elements of Mr Fennelly's findings relate to the role of the Attorney General Maire Whelan.

She said she believed there had taping of phone calls in and out of garda stations for years and found the tapes 'alarming'.

But Ms Whelan, the commission found, did not contact former Justice Minister Alan Shatter after becoming aware of the garda tapes controversy.

This is partly because Ms Whelan , according to Fennelly, believed Shatter was "part of the narrative...there were issues, allegations touching the Minister himself".

Ms Whelan was referring to the controversy surrounding previous remarks made by Mr Shatter about garda whistleblowers.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told RTE Six One News this evening that he has 'absolute confidence in Maire Whelan'.

"She is a superb Attorney General," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny has denied Mr Callinan was sacked by the Government and insisted he merely departed of his own accord.

In a statement issued this afternoon, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said:

“I have consistently rejected claims by some in Opposition that I either sacked or sought to sack the former Commissioner."

He said the report confirms Callinan decided to retire, and that he could have decided otherwise. “Furthermore, it finds that I had no intention of putting pressure on the former Commissioner to retire.”

He also said: "The Commission of Investigation also concludes that “serious information deficits and multiple failures of communication" and that criticism of government communications  “presents significant lessons for institutions and officers of state about governance and process”.

On the crucial night of March 20, Taoiseach says he 'strongly' and 'consistently' defended the Commissioner as he was criticised for his controversial 'disgusting' remark about whistle-blowers.

Taoiseach said he called a meeting on evening of March 24 to 'gather as much information as possible about the garda tapes in advance of next morning’s cabinet meeting'.

Kenny says it is 'deeply regrettable' that those at meeting on March 24 were not aware of existence of a formal letter from the then commissioner to the Department of Justice on the taping issue.

It has since been revealed in the report that there is no notes from a four hour meeting  on March 24 in Taoiseach's office which Fennelly described as the "central event". 

Taoiseach said he was in a position where a cabinet meeting was imminent, a commission of investigation was about to take place and that the garda tapes controversy was about to become public.

"I made a decision that it was only fair and right to ensure that the then Garda Commissioner was made aware of the situation and my grave concerns,” he said.

The Taoiseach also said that Martin Callinan told Fennelly that the decision by Department of Justice General Secretary Brian Purcell to call to his house was an 'immediate catalyst' to retire.

But the Taoiseach reiterated, the conclusion by the Commission is that Callinan decided to retire.

The report found that the crucial meeting at Commissioners house between Callinan and Brian Purcell took place after 10:15pm.

According to the report, Callinan was 'shocked' at late call by Purcell.

The Commission also makes significant findings relation to the night Mr Purcell was dispatched to the home of Mr Callinan. The visit took place close to 11pm and went on into the early hours.

Mr Callinan told the Commission that he felt he had had 'no option' but to retire after the visit.

Although accepting the assurances given by the Taoiseach that he did not try to apply pressure on Mr Callinan by dispatching Mr Purcell, the Commission states that 'Mr Purcell's mission was likely to be interpreted as doing just that'.

The Commission also gives a strong finding that the Commissioner was not dismissed or removed from office - as has been claimed by the Opposition.

Fennelly found that to remove the Commissioner of An Garda Siochana, the Government must invoke section 11 and 12 of the An Garda Siochana Act 2005.

The report  found at that the very most, Mr Kenny was prepared to express no confidence in him. It indicates that does not amount to dismissal.

"The Act was not engaged...That stage was never reached," the report found.  

Fennelly Commission Report findings:

  • As a matter of probability, Martin Callinan did not report the recording of garda tapes to the Secretary General of the dept Brian Purcell prior to 22 Nov 2013, as required
  • As a matter of probability, Callinan DID inform Brian Purcell of taped calls on a date after Nov 22
  • On garda tapes, Fennelly Commission was 'not' convinced Callinan conveyed the garda tapes to Purcell with any "sense of the importance of the matter"
  • It was an error of judgement of Callinan to postpone a written report on the garda tapes
  • Callinan sent a letter to Purcell on March 14 2014 which showed him 'unquestionably' complied with his obligations
  • Brian Purcell should have shown the March 14 letter to the minister - but he delayed it for 2 weeks for 'personal reasons'
  • Then Minister Shatter remained unaware of letter detailing garda tapes until evening of March 24
  • No proper communication between gardai and Department of Justice because Garda Commissioner was not properly informed by his management of garda tapes
  • Crucial meeting at Commissioners house between Callinan and Brian Purcell took place after 10:15pm, Fennelly finds

  • Callinan was "shocked" at late call by Purcell. "He could not understand why Mr Purcell was attending at his house at all" as he had already reported tapes to AG's office

  • "The immediate and direct cause of his decision to retire was the visit from Mr Purcell, and the message conveyed from the Taoiseach during that visit."

  • Commission also gives a strong finding that the Commissioner was not dismissed or removed from office - as has been claimed by the Opposition

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