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Callinan knew his number was up after late night call


Former Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell

Former Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell

Former Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell

The months leading up to March 25, 2014, had not been great for Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

It was controversy after controversy. Whether it was whistleblowers, Garda Ombudsman bugging allegations, or penalty points - it just never seemed to go away.

His description of garda whistleblowing as "disgusting" at an Oireachtas Committee hearing did little to restore public or political confidence in his leadership of the force.

Callinan knew the historic practice of recording certain telephone calls in garda stations would be another issue, and that's why he raised it with the Justice Department some two weeks earlier, and also with Attorney General Márie Whelan.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny was only told about the matter on Sunday, March 23, during a meeting with Whelan and the secretary general of his department Martin Fraser.

Unbeknownst to Callinan, at 6pm the following evening on Monday, March 24, Kenny held what the Fennelly Commission called a "crucial and decisive" meeting.

The meeting would ultimately bring a sudden end to Callinan's time as head of the force.

Kenny, Fraser and Whelan met first, and 20 minutes later the Taoiseach summoned then Justice Minister Alan Shatter to his office.

Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell was called to join them at 9pm and later dispatched to visit Callinan.

Purcell was initially "puzzled" as to why the tapes would be an issue requiring discussion with the Taoiseach.

He knew the practice had gone on for 30 years and he was also aware the commissioner wrote to him two weeks previously about the matter.

At the meeting, Purcell sought to defend Callinan but never mentioned the letter he had received from the commissioner.

Discussion eventually turned to the following morning's Cabinet meeting where the Taoiseach would have to brief his colleagues on the tapes, and inevitably the issue of confidence in Callinan would arise given the mounting garda scandals.

In his evidence, Fraser said there was a "possibility" the Taoiseach might not be able to express confidence in Callinan.

"He was likely to find himself in a position where he might not be able to express confidence in the Garda Commissioner going forward," he said.

Shatter and Purcell gave similar testimony. Whelan said Kenny was "deeply troubled" over the issue but did not discuss it at the meeting.

Kenny did not agree or disagree with Fraser, but said addressing Cabinet was his main concern.

Nevertheless, it was decided Purcell was to visit Callinan that evening and relay the Taoiseach's "grave concerns" about the garda recordings. All those present agree on this.

The disagreement arises over whether Purcell was told to tell Callinan the Taoiseach might not be able to express confidence in him the next day.

Purcell said he was told to say the Taoiseach would "perhaps" have difficulty supporting him.

Shatter backed him up and said it was "fantasy" to suggest Purcell was sent to get any response from Callinan.

But Kenny told the Commission of Investigation that Purcell was instructed to tell Callinan of his concerns and then get his views.

When pushed by the inquiry as to what views were sought, Kenny was unable to specify any questions.

Shatter said the "message going to the commissioner indicated very clearly to him that his position was in great difficulty or that he should consider his position".

Purcell said he did not "misunderstand his remit", which included telling Callinan the Taoiseach might not be able to express confidence in him.

The commission said it would have been "unthinkable" for Purcell not to warn Callinan of this possibility.

Purcell was unhappy about what he was being asked to do and suggested meeting the commissioner in the morning. This was rejected.

"If the message being given was, 'I view this very gravely' ... that's a message that could have been given easily over the telephone, you know, that obviously this is very serious," Purcell said.

Shatter supported this: "And if he thought he was going out just looking for information, he would not have been stressed. No one would have been stressed saying look, we have a big problem, go and have a chat about it."

Shatter offered to accompany his secretary general to the commissioner's home, which Purcell saw as a "genuine attempt to share the burden".

The secretary general arrived at 11pm and stayed for more than hour. The lengthy discussion was peppered with long silences which Purcell said "seemed like an eternity".

The commissioner was confused as to why there was such concern about an issue he had raised several months earlier.

Callinan asked if the Government had confidence and was told there would be a discussion on that before the Cabinet meeting the next day.

"I knew I had to consider my position, that was import of what was going on," he said. He said he would have been happy to "jump into his car" and drive over to Government Buildings to brief the Taoiseach.

Callinan noted in his diary that the visit from the secretary general meant he was to consider his position.

Purcell said it was one of the worst days of his career.

"It was a terrible moment, a terrible thing for (Callinan) to have to deal with," he said.

Just after midnight, Shatter texted Purcell: "This horrendous. Phone me when you can at any time. A"

Around the same time, Callinan told Purcell he would retire but said he would like to do so in three months.

Purcell informed Fraser of the development in the commissioner's company, who in turn told the Taoiseach.

Enda Kenny told the inquiry he didn't sleep "a wink" that night, making a decision without consulting the Attorney General or the Minister for Justice.

He decided three months would be too long and texted Fraser to say "it simply has to be immediate".

The next day, Callinan announced his retirement citing family reasons, ending a 41-year career in the force.

Irish Independent