Friday 31 October 2014

Unanswered questions over Callinan visit undermine Kenny's credibility

Published 30/07/2014 | 02:30

Brian Purcell
Brian Purcell

WHEN Taoiseach Enda Kenny dispatched the outgoing Secretary General of the Department of Justice to apparently relieve former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan's of his duties, the chattering classes swooned at his decisive leadership.

The fist bumping, 'Happy' dancing grandfather of the Dail was no more.

Instead, we had 'RoboTaoiseach,' a parliamentary superhero demolishing every obstacle in his path in the pursuit of accountability.

Here was a man defying all previous mutterings of a leader said to be micro managed to the nth degree by handlers seemingly reluctant to unleash him within five yards of a microphone or TV camera.

Mr Kenny won widespread praise last March, through the prism of Commissioner Callinan's departure, for cauterising a heavy bleed of garda-related controversies that combined to form the first major domestic emergency since the stabiliser wheels of the troika trike came off.

The still smouldering political flames over the alleged bugging of the offices of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), allegations of garda malpractice and the taping of phone calls in garda stations and other places of detention threatened to collapse the Government.

So decisive, so exacting was the Taoiseach's decision to take control over the Department of Justice that not even Justice Minister Alan Shatter – then in the throes of a self-inflicted freefall – knew that his (Shatter's) top civil servant was sent to Callinan's home.

The now legendary visit by outgoing justice Secretary General Brian Purcell bore all the euphemistic hallmarks of a much-loved pet being sent to the vet one last time.

The decision by Mr Kenny to send Mr Purcell to visit the Commissioner – instead of his own Secretary General, Martin Fraser – is as puzzling now as it was when Purcell and Callinan burned the midnight oil.

But it was not the only question.

Why did Mr Purcell not inform or consult his own minister? Was he instructed not to?

Why was Mr Shatter (and other Cabinet members) left out of the loop and not informed of the covert taping that led Mr Purcell to Mr Callinan's door?

Why did Mr Shatter not receive a letter from then Commissioner Callinan outlining his concerns about the taping of conversations in garda stations?

If Commissioner Callinan was informed, as we are told, of government concerns at the unfolding situation, who told him, when and how?

The de facto sacking, in my view, of the Garda Commissioner was and remains a matter of exceptional public interest requiring an immediate and substantial explanation.

Mr Kenny, the head of the democratically elected Government of Ireland, refused – and refuses – to provide one.

Instead, he stumbled on and announced a Commission of Investigation led by retired Supreme Court judge Nial Fennelly.

The main issues to be investigated include the garda tapes and their specific implications in relation to the garda investigation into the 1996 murder of French filmmaker Sophie Toscan du Plantier. The terms of reference also include the sequence of events leading up to the retirement of Mr Callinan.

The inclusion of the sequence of events leading up to Mr Callinan's retirement provided immediate political cover for Mr Kenny to batten down the hatches over his role in the affair. In sombre tones, the Taoiseach stated that he could not possibly interfere with the Fennelly Commission.

This is a pathetic and insulting stance.

Enda Kenny is the Taoiseach. He is accountable to the Dail and Seanad.

Providing an explanation now will not undermine the Fennelly Commission.

But Mr Kenny's failure to account to the Oireachtas and the wider public will – in circumstances where the Government is not out of the woods yet in respect of the Department of Justice and the gardai – undermine his credibility and leadership.

The Taoiseach should not hide behind the skirts of the law.

He should proffer an explanation. And he should do so now.

Irish Independent

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