Thursday 20 June 2019

Martin Callinan: my shock that Enda Kenny shafted me

Callinan's closest associates say late-night visit forced him to quit

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan


FORMER Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was shocked and perplexed at Taoiseach Enda Kenny's unprecedented decision to send a top civil servant to visit his home late at night.

Close associates of Mr Callinan last night said he felt that the house call by Brian Purcell, the secretary general of the Department of Justice, on the eve of last Tuesday's cabinet meeting left him with no option but to resign.

The revelation directly contradicts repeated denials from Mr Kenny last week that he effectively sacked the commissioner for political reasons.

Mr Kenny has so far failed to provide a proper explanation for the decision to send Mr Purcell – the civil servant who worked most closely with Mr Callinan in the Department of Justice – to visit his home.

On Friday, Mr Kenny said he did not have the power to force a Garda Commissioner to resign. But writing in today's Sunday Independent, Deputy Shane Ross said Mr Purcell was used as "an executioner" because Mr Callinan's failure to apologise for describing the actions of garda whistleblowers as "disgusting" was threatening to split the Coalition.

Mr Kenny's claim that he simply sent Mr Purcell to inform the commissioner about the impending controversy involving recordings of secretly taped conversations in garda stations was contradicted by sources close to Mr Callinan last night.

According to Mr Callinan's associates, the former commissioner was shocked that he was being made the sacrificial lamb for a practice that had started 30 years previously and that he had ended as soon as he heard of what was taking place last November.

He was surprised and saddened that Mr Purcell had been sent by the Taoiseach to deliver the news to him about the proposed discussions at the following day's Cabinet.

The former commissioner is understood to have been earlier advised by a senior Department of Justice official not to withdraw his controversial "disgusting" comments about garda whistleblowers.

Mr Callinan had prepared a statement retracting his comments and had even considered issuing it last Friday week and again on Monday.

The Sunday Independent has learned that Mr Callinan recently met with the Attorney General Maire Whelan at a private function at which he told her he intended to withdraw the term "disgusting". According to a source, the Government's legal adviser told him she would have "no difficulty" with this.

He had briefed officials in the department and the Attorney General's office as soon as he learned that telephone calls to garda divisional headquarters, other than 999 calls, were being recorded. Mr Callinan took immediate steps to end the practice and set up a garda working group to establish the extent of the taping.

But the issue was suddenly turned into a crisis by Mr Kenny and Justice Minister Alan Shatter, even though the gardai were not yet sure of the implications of the taping on any criminal cases other than a civil case relating to the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder investigation, which sparked the crisis.

Mr Kenny will face accusations in the Dail that he effectively circumvented legislation which says the sacking of a commissioner requires a cabinet decision.

Fianna Fail plans to use a vote of no confidence in embattled Mr Shatter on Wednesday to expose cracks in Mr Kenny's explanation.

Its justice spokesman, Niall Collins, told the Sunday Independent: "Enda Kenny is the only person who believes that he (Kenny) did not sack Martin Callinan. It is stretching credulity beyond breaking point to maintain he didn't.

"Where Kenny is caught out is in the fact that when Purcell rang Callinan on Tuesday morning (before the cabinet meeting), he told him the concern at Government had not dissipated. But all the ministers are on the record as saying they knew nothing about the taping controversy."

Mr Kenny effectively sidelined Mr Shatter on the garda controversies in recent weeks after he became alarmed over his handling of the stream of damning revelations.

Government sources said Mr Kenny had taken a more hands-on approach after he was badly exposed by Mr Shatter over the Garda Ombudsman bugging affair. Mr Kenny had to correct the record after claiming GSOC was obliged to inform the minister of its investigations.

"It's a case of, 'If I deal with that myself, I know it will be dealt with'," one minister told the Sunday Independent.

Labour Party figures also want Mr Kenny to keep a tighter rein on Fine Gael ministers and believe the current crisis has been caused by "brinkmanship from Shatter". The junior coalition party feels Mr Shatter should have been forced to resolve matters weeks ago.

"Backbenchers and ministers were getting quite frustrated with the way the issue was handled. For the last six weeks or more, we have had a constant political mess around issues which could be handled in a different fashion," a senior party figure said.

The dramatic events of the past week also contradict the perception that Mr Callinan enjoyed an extremely close relationship with Mr Shatter.

Informed sources this weekend said Mr Callinan was not close either professionally, socially or politically to the minister.

However, he was in daily contact with Mr Purcell on routine garda business, in line with the practice involving all previous garda commissioners and department secretaries general over the past few decades.

The Government's popularity has taken a hammering as a result of the constant stream of controversies.

According to a Red C poll published in the Sunday Business Post, support for the Government parties is at its lowest level since the Coalition took office in 2011.

Support for Fine Gael is down three points to 26 per cent, with Labour down two to just nine per cent. Sinn Fein has jumped five points to 21 per cent, but Fianna Fail has failed to capitalise on the Government's woes, with support at a static 22 per cent.

Support for independents also remains unchanged at 22 per cent.

Meanwhile, Mr Shatter held talks yesterday with senior officials in his department to discuss the week's sensational developments.

The Sunday Independent has also learned that interim Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan is to hold crisis summit talks at the Garda College in Templemore on Tuesday to debate the ongoing controversies.

She has invited all assistant commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents as well as civilian heads of sections to attend.

No deputy commissioners will attend as both positions are now vacant, while the number of vacancies for chief superintendents has also increased in the past few days with the early retirement of the head of the Special Branch and former garda press officer, Kevin Donohoe with at least one other also indicating that he too would be leaving shortly.

Sunday Independent

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