Wednesday 20 November 2019

Kenny defends Shatter amid calls for resignation

Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Fionnan Sheahan and Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has issued a staunch defence of Justice Minister Alan Shatter amid growing calls for him to follow Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and resign from his post.

Mr Kenny was speaking after the government announced the establishment of a Commission of Investigation to inquire into "fresh revelations" regarding the taping of telephone calls at garda stations since the eighties.

During a day of high drama, which began with Mr Callinan's resignation this morning, the government has now claimed to have been made aware of a new garda scandal.

Mr Kenny told the cabinet at its weekly meeting that conversations at a number of garda stations have been recorded for other 30 years - with the practice only being ceased in 2013.

He said that the practice could have consequences for court cases which are currently ongoing, completed or yet to commence.

Mr Kenny said he was informed of the new revelations at 6.00pm on Sunday by Attorney General Maire Whelan.

He said the terms of reference for the Commission of inquiry will be published shortly, while an independent Garda Authority will also be established.

However, Opposition leaders today turned up on the heat on Mr Shatter and demanded that he be asked to resign.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said Mr Shatter's position is "untenable" as a result of his decision to "undermine" the characters of garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson.

Mr Kenny responded by describing his Fine Gael colleague as "probably the most reforming Minister for Justice in the past 50 years". He added that he has spoken to Mr Shatter about his remarks and that the minister will deal with this issue on Thursday.

It's expected that he will withdraw the comments, made on the Dail record, and issue an apology to Sgt McCabe and former Garda John Wilson.

Asked by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams if he will ask Mr Shatter to resign, the Taoiseach replied: "No, is the answer to your question".

Meanwhile, the Attorney General was today busy drawing up the terms of reference for the new Commission of Inquiry.

Ministers were briefed about the revelations of taped phone calls at the Cabinet meeting, where Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan's resignation was also discussed.

A Coalition source said the new developments are extremely serious and more significant even than the whistleblower controversies.

Now the Government has confirmed an inquiry into "a new and very serious issue relating to An Garda Síochána". 

"The implications of this matter are potentially of such gravity that the Government has decided to set up a statutory Commission of Investigation into this matter of significant public concern," a spokesman said.

"It will be chaired by a senior serving or retired member of the Judiciary.

"In the context of ongoing legal proceedings in a particular case, the Government has learned that a system was in place in a large number of Garda stations whereby incoming and outgoing telephone calls were taped and recorded.  The Government was informed of this new information at its meeting today.

"As the matter is before the Courts, it is not appropriate to make any further comment on the specific case.

The statement added that the practice of making records was "in place for many years and was discontinued in November of 2013.

"It is not yet clear why this practice was in operation.The Government is extremely concerned about this information," according to a statement.

"The Government has asked for a full, detailed report on all aspects of this matter from An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality, so that an informed decision can be made on the legal and other consequences, with the assistance of the Attorney General.

"The terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation will be decided shortly, once a full report on the circumstances has been made available to the Government.

The news of the fresh revelations came just hours after the shock resignation of the Garda Commissioner.

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