Justice Committee should target the Government, not Purcell
Published 29/05/2014 | 02:30
The very public displays of frustration from members of the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality yesterday evening were entirely understandable, but they took it out on the wrong target.
Members queued up to have a pop at Brian Purcell, the embattled secretary general of the Department of Justice, because of his refusal to answer questions regarding his role in events leading up to the resignation of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
But Purcell was placed in an impossible position. Despite the howls of protest, the reality is there was a very real basis to what he said: if he had answered such questions, there was potential for him to prejudice the upcoming Fennelly Commission of Investigation.
The real point, missed by the deputies, is that the matter should never have been included in the Fennelly Inquiry in the first place. The core business of Fennelly is to investigate the Garda taping controversy – its terms of reference should not have included the circumstances surrounding Callinan's departure.
The decision to do so has effectively gagged the Justice Committee. And it's towards the Government, not Purcell, that members should be venting their spleen.
The Justice Committee should be the ideal body to explore Callinan's resignation. All of the principals involved are either public servants or elected politicians – none of them could credibly decline to appear before the Committee.
But instead of going down this route, the Government opted to refer the issue to Fennelly. Why? Was it the panicky, ill-thought action of a coalition under fire for not reacting quickly enough and eager to make a statement?
Or, as some of a more cynical disposition have suggested, was it a very deliberate attempt to long finger an issue that potentially could be very embarrassing?
There's a certain irony that this Government initially sought to expand the powers of inquiry of Oireachtas committees. Its actions in recent weeks have completely hamstrung one of those committees.
Shane Coleman is the presenter of the Sunday Show on Newstalk 106-108FM.