Friday 24 November 2017

Shocked AG failed to contact Shatter over secret recordings

Attorney General Maire Whelan
Attorney General Maire Whelan
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Attorney General Máire Whelan is, without doubt, the central character during the early stages of the events that eventually led to the shock departure of Martin Callinan.

Over a three-day period in March 2014, the AG became aware of the widespread nature of the recording of phone calls in and out of garda stations.

While it was brought to her attention the previous November, it was only after reading a 15-page garda report that she realised the seriousness of what was at play.

In fact, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly reports that in her evidence, the AG deemed the recordings as representing "wholesale violation of the law by Garda Síochána".

The AG claimed to be have been aghast at the scale of the recordings. She considered this to be a state of affairs "wholly and materially different in every respect from what had been projected in November", according to the Fennelly Report.

But it is the next steps taken by Máire Whelan that will leave her open to severe criticism.

Firstly, she did not contact the then commissioner, Mr Callinan, or ask anyone to do so on her behalf, to seek further explanation in relation to the tapes.

This was because she didn't want to intervene or undermine the relationship between the force and the Justice Minister, the commission found. Ms Whelan also failed to contact the then Justice Minister Alan 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 scandal. The AG also believed Mr Shatter had been fully briefed by officials in the Department of Justice.

But it was her failure to contact Mr Shatter that forms one of the most significant observations by Mr Justice 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. Mr Justice Fennelly quotes the AG as referring the matter as a "whole of government issue".

In her evidence, Ms Whelan spoke of "tensions" between Mr Shatter and another minister, referring to Leo Varadkar.

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

On the decision not to contact Mr Shatter, the commission states that the AG had "discovered a matter of the gravest possible public concern" regarding An Garda Síochána and yet "no contact was made with nor inquiry made of either of the two people most obviously concerned and responsible".

"This had the unfortunate result that the relevant actors all went into the events... in almost complete ignorance of many of the relevant facts," Mr Justice Fennelly added.

Irish Independent

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