Tuesday 27 September 2016

If you can't stand the heat don't make big decisions in a kitchen

Gerard O'Regan

Published 12/09/2015 | 02:30

Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan pictured alongside the former Justice Minister Alan Shatter
Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan pictured alongside the former Justice Minister Alan Shatter

Never make life-changing decisions anywhere near the bread bin - or any other of the standard accoutrements - in the typical family kitchen.

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That just might be one of the main conclusions we can arrive at, as the fall-out from the whole Commissioner Callinan resignation debacle lingers somewhere out there in the ether. The question remains - could the consequences of the whole tawdry affair come back to haunt Enda Kenny?

Despite all that's been said and done, there's still lots we still don't know about the lead-up to that fateful night. Maybe in the fullness of time the brooding presence of Alan Shatter might shed light on a few dark corners - especially if provoked to do so because things don't go his way within the Fine Gael fold.

As with all such to-dos, there are long-term winners and losers. But, arguably, the man who has lost most is Martin Callinan - forced out of the top policing job in the country at a time and place most certainly not of his choosing.

Of course, he wouldn't have clambered his way up the greasy pole if he was any kind of shrinking violet, and he must have had long experience of looking after himself in tight corners. But the psychological trauma in the family kitchen obviously proved too much and, given similar circumstances, it would have probably done so for even the most emotionally resilient.

His will to carry on the fight obviously crumbled in the face of such an unorthodox attack - even if it was delivered by an unwilling emissary in the form of a senior civil servant. But it was hardly the ideal location to make a heroic last stand to try and hang on to his job.

Sitting across from him was the civil servant telling him he was not exactly flavour of the month with the Taoiseach. Macbeth-like, the civil servant was left wielding the psychological dagger, which had been placed in his hand by Enda Kenny.

The unprecedented timing of the assault from the Taoiseach meant that Callinan had to ignore one of the primary rules of conflict - the importance of conducting the fight on a battleground of his own choosing.

Sitting in the family kitchen he was caught totally on the back foot - the location would surely have increased his sense of vulnerability faced with such unforeseen pressures.

It meant that a plea for an extra few months in office so that he could leave the job with some dignity was also refused.

On superficial grounds it was a total win for the Taoiseach. He had his head on a plate without having to undergo the obvious risks of a full-scale public battle with a serving Garda Commissioner. But the question remains - should Callinan have called his bluff?

In the absence of any clear-cut case to answer regarding his stewardship, should he have decided to tough it out - and thereby force into the public arena charges which were being levelled against him? If he had decided to hold the line it would have been a game changer. It would have put all the pressure back on the Kenny inner circle.

The political risks would be acute in trying to force a Garda Commissioner to resign who was publicly unwilling to do so. Undoubtedly, there were issues to be resolved - such as the taping of phone calls to garda stations. But this had been going on long before the Callinan era - and he did make efforts to resolve the matter.

Controversies in relation to GSOC and the language used to describe whistleblowers were also matters of dispute - but, from a strictly legal perspective, were they clear-cut sackable offences?

We will never know who would have blinked first if the Commissioner had decided to face down unspecified charges and assertions. What would the Taoiseach have done if Callinan - in his kitchen that night - sent back a clear message: I am staying in office until all due process is exhausted.

A sacking would have required full Cabinet agreement and would have given rise to a host of legal issues. What would be the response of the Labour Party? And, most importantly, what would be the reaction of Alan Shatter - whose fortunes as Justice Minister were so closely intertwined with that of Mr Callinan.

In his core defence the former Commissioner may also have argued garda crime detection rates remain competitive by international standards - and the symbiotic link between the force and much of the population has largely survived greater urbanisation and other trends.

Be all that as it may, Enda Kenny got his way in the end. But is there a smoking gun somewhere?

There are a few hurt and brooding people out there who feel the old adage 'innocent until proven guilty' got short shrift.

Alan Shatter has largely held his counsel. But he remains wounded and angry that his dream job as Justice Minister slipped away from him. So he waits in the long grass - nobody knows that better than Enda Kenny.

Irish Independent

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