News Lise Hand

Friday 29 August 2014

A story moving so fast it should have been given penalty points of its own

Lise Hand

Published 26/03/2014 | 02:30

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THE Taoiseach was clutching the statement, but in reality he was grasping at straws. He wanted to read aloud to the Dail the first sentence of the Garda Commissioner's parting rocket which detonated in Government Buildings earlier in the day.

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"In the best interests of An Garda Siochana and my family, I have decided to retire ... to retire," he repeated emphatically.

"What are you saying?" snapped a peppering Micheal Martin. Enda retorted, "You're talking about resignations – the Garda Commissioner retired ... ," he declared, the rest of his words swallowed in the howls of derision which erupted along the opposition benches.

Enda was floundering. Only a handful of days ago he was hanging out in the Oval Office with his pal Barack, and now he was up to his knees in whirring fans and brown stuff. But that's politics for you – one day you're cock-of-the-walk, the next day you're a feather duster.

It was mid-afternoon on the first day of his Government's first full-blown, unspinnable, out-of-the-blue (literally) crisis. True, the Coalition has endured some rocky patches along the way, and hit a few speed bumps. But this time the Government's bicycle-made-for-two had lost its way and ended up in a ditch.

And so the Taoiseach had the look of a man in need of a garda to help him with his inquiries – which is where Martin Callinan comes in.

It was a day when the bombshells fell like shrieking doodlebugs on the roof of Leinster House. Even as the Cabinet convened for their first meeting after the St Patrick's Week break, the Garda Commissioner was announcing his resignation, to the surprise of well, just about everybody.

There was genuine shock around the House. For up to the moment when he resigned, the commissioner appeared to exude defiance over the issue of withdrawing his use of the word "disgusting" in relation to the actions of the two Garda whistleblowers. His attitude seemed to be that all involved could go whistle for an apology. And suddenly just before 10am, there he was, gone – leaving the Government with a crisis on their hands. But the dust hadn't even begun to settle on this bombshell when the second one exploded along the corridors of power.

The Government were launching a full statutory inquiry over "a very serious issue" of "significant public concern" involving the taping of phone calls in garda stations.

The whirlwind gathered pace and became something which all the government spinners couldn't put back together again. Both leaders of the opposition parties, Micheal Martin and Gerry Adams, were summoned to the Taoiseach's office for a hasty briefing. There were potentially major legal implications in this revelation, so tread carefully, lads, was the clear message from a rattled government.

And so, unwilling to tread on treacherous legal ground, Micheal and Gerry piled in on the departed commissioner and the beleaguered Justice Minister. Alan Shatter's position is now "untenable", insisted the Fianna Fail leader. Gerry Adams bluntly asked Enda, "Will you ask Minister Shatter to go?"

But the Taoiseach stood firm, even as the ground shifted uneasily beneath his feet. "No is the answer to your question," he told Gerry. He told the Dail the minister would answer questions in the House all day on Thursday. "I believe there's an opportunity here to deal with this for once and for all," Gerry declared. Alas, that was wishful thinking. Even as the Taoiseach strove to draw a line in the sand, the line got washed away in a deluge of questions about the dramatic taping revelations. Is this extraordinary setting-up of an inquiry in jig-time a reaction to a potentially huge scandal, or a useful distraction from the travails of a vulnerable Justice Minister?

Confusion reigned, mingled with anger. "It beggars belief there are no statements in the House today," shouted an irate Micheal. But how could there have been statements, as nobody was close to being in possession of all the facts. This story was moving so fast that it could've been awarded penalty points of its very own.

The accusations and finger-pointing went on all evening. Independent TD Mick Wallace – nemesis of the former commissioner - popped up on the news. "Clearly there's a hornet's nest around the corner for this government," he predicted.

Indeed. Gardagate is not going away. For once, the Government can't urge everyone to move along, nothing to see.

Not this time.

Irish Independent

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