Wednesday 16 October 2019

Labour's Brendan Howlin: Attorney General Maire Whelan will not be used as a 'scapegoat' for Fennelly findings

Attorney General Maire Whelan
Attorney General Maire Whelan

Niall O’Connor and Philip Ryan

PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has insisted Attorney General Máire Whelan will not be made the “scapegoat” for the damaging findings contained in the Fennelly report.

Mr Howlin today described Ms Whelan, a Labour Party appointee to the post, as an “immensely competent law officer”.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin

He said the country would be “deeply wounded” to lose Ms Whelan’s services.

Ms Whelan has come under intense scrutiny since the report by Mr Justice Nial Fennelly was released this week.

The report criticised the AG on a number of fronts  - prompting a move by Sinn Fein to submit a motion of no confidence in Ms Whelan when the Dail resumes. However, senior Coalition sources have raised doubt over whether it is in the remit of the Dáil to debate a motion of no confidence in relation to the State’s most senior law officer.

It’s emerged that the Labour Party has fired a warning shot to Fine Gael in order to stave off the prospect of an offensive against Ms Whelan.

Labour sources have insisted that the party has backed the Taoiseach in light of his own criticisms in the report and that Fine Gael must equally stand by Ms Whelan.

Speaking on RTÉ’s ‘Morning Ireland’, Mr Howlin said there was no prospect whatsoever of Ms Whelan being used as a scapegoat.

“Absolutely not. The Attorney General, I’ve worked with her for four and a half years in government and before that.  She is an immensely competent, diligent, able law officer to the State that we would be deeply wounded as a nation to lose,” he said.

In the report, Mr Justice Fennelly Firstly found that Ms Whelan did not contact the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, or seek anyone to do so on her behalf, to seek further explanations on the emergence of the garda tapes.

This was because she didn’t want to intervene or undermine the relationship between the force and the Justice Minister, the Commission found.

Secondly, Ms Whelan failed to contact Mr Shatter – telling the Commission that she believed he was in possession of the 15 page report that laid bare the scale of the garda tapes. She also believed he had been fully briefed on the matters at hand by officials.

But it is the failure to contact Mr Shatter that forms one of the most significant observations by Mr Justice Nial Fennelly.

The AG believed Mr Shatter was "part of the narrative...there were issues, allegations touching the Minister himself personally,” the report says.

She was referring to Mr Shatter’s public comments about the garda whistleblowers.

Fennelly quotes the AG as referring the matter as a “whole of government issue”.

In her evidence, she spoke of “tensions” between Mr Shatter and another Minister. The AG was referring to Leo Varadkar, who had defended the garda whistleblowers in public, referring to their actions as “distinguished”.

The report found that she also referred to the  "the  narrative in the media that the Commissioner and the Minister were unduly close... "

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