Monday 26 September 2016

Eamon Gilmore: why I was set to bring down Coalition after the shock resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan

More revelations from politics book of the decade

Miriam Donohoe, Philip Ryan and Jody Corcorcan

Published 01/11/2015 | 02:30

In his explosive memoir Mr Gilmore discloses that he had even mentally prepared a Labour statement of withdrawal from the Coalition
In his explosive memoir Mr Gilmore discloses that he had even mentally prepared a Labour statement of withdrawal from the Coalition

Former Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has revealed for the first time full details of the dramatic day he was prepared to collapse the Government after the shock retirement of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

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In his explosive memoir - from which exclusive extracts are published in the Sunday Independent today - Mr Gilmore discloses that he had even mentally prepared a Labour statement of withdrawal from the Coalition.

Government collapse was only averted as he sat at his kitchen table and received a telephone call from the Taoiseach: "I told him that I was taking the most serious view about how the details had unfolded, and he assured me that he was fully aware of the seriousness of the situation for the Coalition."

Mr Gilmore was "shocked" when Enda Kenny told him about telephone calls recorded in garda stations and of Mr Callinan's decision to retire.

But he was "deeply concerned" the Taoiseach had been aware of the problem but was only telling him two days later - and that, in the meantime, the Garda Commissioner had chosen to retire.

In his memoir, Mr Gilmore said that if Labour had been "blindsided" by Fine Gael on the issue it would "certainly mean the end of the Government".

The former Labour leader also revealed that such was the level of concern over Cabinet leaks that ministers had to place their mobile phones on the table during a tense meeting, at which Mr Callinan's retirement was revealed.

The revelations emerge as the Cabinet is this weekend thrown into a new crisis over rent certainty.

The Sunday Independent understands Environment Minister Alan Kelly is prepared to go to the "very edge" to force Fine Gael agreement on a package.

After a week of Cabinet in-fighting, Mr Kelly is said to be now of the view that he has "nothing left to loose".

His team fear the Coalition is facing a serious homelessness issue this Christmas, but he is threatening to "drag" the Taoiseach into the row rather than take the rap.

His team believe the policies of the Department of Finance and Tanaiste Joan Burton's Department of Social Protection are increasing homelessness, and "up until now Kelly has given other ministers political cover".

A crunch meeting will be held this week between Mr Kelly and Finance Minister Michael Noonan in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the escalating crisis.

Mr Kelly's side is "reasonably confident" of a deal but insist it will have to contain an element of rent certainty.

The crucial meeting could determine the future of the Coalition, as relations between Labour and Fine Gael plunge to the lowest level since the fallout from the Garda controversies last year, and threaten to spiral out of control.

The rising tension is also undermining the Coalition's presentation to the electorate of stable government.

Fine Gael strategists, meanwhile, are closely examining the possibility of forming the next government with a drastically depleted Labour and four or five Independents.

There is a preference to approach unaligned Independents but support is growing among senior figures to approach Shane Ross's Independent Alliance.

However, this could lead to resistance from others who believe Mr Ross is a "weak politician" who would be more "disruptive than helpful".

The Sunday Independent also understands there has been "informal discussions" between the Independent Alliance and Renua Ireland on a vote transfer agreement ahead of the election.

In his memoir, Mr Gilmore tells how there was a "media and public storm" over the Garda Commissioner's "disgusting" reference to whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

He says he saw an opportunity to progress a Labour policy for an independent Garda Authority, which he felt the Taoiseach had warmed to.

But when he arrived at Government Buildings to discuss this with him, his private secretary told him the Taoiseach wanted to see him urgently. He found Mr Kenny to be in an "untypically agitated" state.

The Attorney General had briefed him the previous Sunday afternoon about Garda telephone recordings.

The Taoiseach told him the Secretary General of the Department of Justice had visited the Garda Commissioner's home and that he had decided to retire.

Mr Gilmore says: "I was shocked. Furthermore, I was deeply concerned that the Taoiseach had been aware of the problem since Sunday evening but was only telling me about it two days later and that in the meantime the Commissioner had chosen to retire from his office."

Both the Taoiseach and Mr Gilmore were worried news of the retirement would leak: "For this meeting, the Taoiseach and I put our mobile phones in the middle of the Cabinet table and all other ministers followed suit."

Late in the afternoon, Mr Gilmore's advisor told him there was a letter from Mr Callinan which had not been brought to the attention of the Cabinet.

"I was greatly alarmed…These questions added to my anger with the Taoiseach for failing to keep me informed about the tapes issue and the Commissioner's decision to retire," he says.

He was reassured that the AG's account of the events "tallied in every respect" with the Taoiseach's; Alan Shatter told him that he had not seen the letter until it was delivered to him at that day's Cabinet meeting.

But as he left Leinster House he was still uncertain: "I had yet to speak to the Taoiseach and as I travelled home, I began to assemble the kind of statement I might make the following morning if the Taoiseach was unable to assure me that nothing untoward had been attempted." Mr Gilmore was sitting at the kitchen table when the Taoiseach called him.

"He told me that he had not seen the letter either and concurred that it was strange and unacceptable that a letter of such importance had not been passed on to the minister.

"I told him that I was taking the most serious view about how the details had unfolded, and he assured me that he was fully aware of the seriousness of the situation for the Coalition.

"In all my dealings with him, he had never been untruthful with me, so I accepted at face value what he was saying."

When the Taoiseach subsequently informed him that he had received the Guerin Report and Mr Shatter had decided to resign "it appeared that I was being kept in the dark once again and this did not help my cause within the party."

Sunday Independent

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