Sunday 25 September 2016

Midnight knock on the door is no way to run a justice system

Niall Collins

Published 03/09/2015 | 02:30

'The profound mismanagement and sheer political cynicism of Enda Kenny led to him abusing his office to force the commissioner out'
'The profound mismanagement and sheer political cynicism of Enda Kenny led to him abusing his office to force the commissioner out'

When Martin Callinan heard the door rattle late on a cold Monday night in March and the secretary general of the Departure of Justice Brian Purcell emerged from the dark, he had no idea what was about to be discussed.

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The secretary general had never called to the commissioner's home for such a nocturnal meeting before, nor indeed had it happened throughout the history of the State.

He sat uneasily on a chair in the kitchen haltingly explaining to the commissioner that the Taoiseach might not be able to express confidence in him at the next morning's Cabinet meeting. Government confidence is absolutely vital to the proper functioning of the office. Once it was called into question, it was evident that the commissioner was being marched on to the plank. The message from the Taoiseach was clear: jump or be pushed.

The report paints a picture of chaos at the heart of government. The profound mismanagement and sheer political cynicism of Enda Kenny led to him abusing his office to force the commissioner out. The swirl of issues surrounding the Government's handling of the justice system, from penalty points to GSOC bugging, was beginning to damage the Government. The issue of the Garda recordings was exploited as a smokescreen to get rid of someone who was seen as a political liability after a disastrous Oireachtas committee appearance in January. The same fate awaited then-Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Brian Purcell himself, and now, perhaps, the Attorney General Maire Whelan. Behind it all, claiming his hands are clean, is An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Avoiding confronting the commissioner directly or invoking the 2005 An Garda Siochana Act, the Taoiseach sought the back route of constructive dismissal.

Mr Kenny forced a deeply reluctant Brian Purcell to go to the commissioner's home to issue a stark midnight warning, knowing full well what the consequence would be.

The sheer hypocrisy of claiming he had confidence in the commissioner and had not sought his resignation, before then immediately accepting it and refusing to allow him work out a three-month notice period, is clear evidence of his motivations.

This controversy is not about whether Mr Callinan was a good commissioner. It's about a Taoiseach who overextends his office to serve his party interests. It's about the cynical character of a government spin machine that attempts to massage a critical report and puts its image above good governance.

As a result, Fianna Fáil is putting forward a motion of no confidence in An Taoiseach when the Dáil returns to hold him to account on this report.

In the face of the weakness of Labour and calculated indifference of Fine Gael, the motion may be defeated. However, they need to ask themselves if we want a country where serious government decisions affecting the most basic role of the state - the administration of justice - are carried out at clandestine late-night meetings?

Otherwise we face the prospect of more midnight door knocks setting the future direction of our justice system.

Niall Collins is a TD for Limerick and Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Justice and Equality

Irish Independent

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