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Kenny's tale on Callinan departure is not credible

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Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan with former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan with former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny

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Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan with former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Just what has Taoiseach Enda Kenny got to hide about his role in the premature departure of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan from his job one year ago?

Mr Kenny stands accused of hiding behind the construct of the Fennelly Commission of Inquiry for political reasons to avoid having to answer charges that he sacked Callinan without full Cabinet approval last March at the height of the justice scandals.

Despite repeated and sustained attempts by the media in recent weeks to elicit his involvement with Fennelly, Mr Kenny has consistently maintained it would be "illegal" for him to make any such comment.

Under such sustained focus, the Taoiseach's story and reasons for his continued silence continue to shift amid growing unease among his own party.

Delayed because of matters relating to the Ian Bailey High Court case, the Commission will circulate its draft findings to concerned parties once that case is concluded. This could be as early as this week.

But just who says it is illegal for him even to confirm he was one of three witnesses to be asked back by Fennelly to give evidence?

For its part, the Commission has told the Sunday Independent that it has not asked witnesses to refrain from commenting on whether or not they have given evidence.

The statement is in contrast to Mr Kenny's stance that it would be an "offence" for him to confirm or deny whether he was one of three people recalled by Nial Fennelly, a retired Supreme Court judge, to help to resolve conflicting evidence.

The Taoiseach said he would "not break the law" by commenting on the matter.

The Sunday Independent this weekend put a number of questions to the Commission.

Specifically, we asked has the commission issued any direction to any third party as what they are allowed say or not say about its work. "No."

The Commission said it has however impressed on every witness the confidential nature of the Commission's work.

The Commission has also said it has not been asked by any witness if it opposed them confirming that they had testified.

"It did not communicate on that issue directly with any witnesses," inquiry solicitor Marian Shanley said last week.

"There could be situations where it would be inappropriate for a person to disclose that they had attended to give evidence. It would depend on the particular context in which such disclosure occurred and would have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis by the commission."

The Commission was unable to cite specific legislation which makes it an offence for witnesses to confirm their attendance before the commission.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who said previously in the Dail that it appeared Mr Kenny "sacked" Mr Callinan, accused Mr Kenny of telling an "untruth" and demanded he apologise. "The Taoiseach has told an untruth in relation to this specific question. He claims he would be committing a criminal offence. That is not true," said Mr Martin.

In response, Mr Kenny's spokesman has said the Taoiseach's stand was based on a "reasonable interpretation" of the legislation.

He said there is a strong argument that answering that question would go to the substantive work of the inquiry in the following way. Should he answer the question it would naturally lead to further questions or joining of dots that may or may not be accurate.

He said the position was that it "could be illegal" to make any comment.

There is no explicit statement by anybody to say it is ok to say if you made contact, he said.

When put to him that the Taoiseach was deliberately avoiding answering the questions for his own political advantage, the spokesman said: "I would reject that. That is not his thinking. He wants to allow the judge maximum space to do his work."

Announcing the Commissioner's resignation to the Dáil on March 24 of last year, Mr Kenny spun the line that he had retired, hotly disputing Fianna Fail charges that Callinan had been "sacked".

However, he soon admitted that he had sent the top civil servant in the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, to visit Callinan at his home the night before his controversial departure.

We were told the purpose of the visit was to convey how serious Mr Kenny thought the news he had received the previous day was - when he was told for the first time about the widespread bugging of telephone calls in Garda stations.

What we need to know though is exactly what did Mr Kenny tell Mr Purcell to say to Mr Callinan.

We know now that Mr Purcell was in contact by phone to Commissioner Callinan the following day. Again we need to know what was said.

But we do know that the Cabinet was not told until the following morning, after Callinan's resignation. A decision to sack a garda commissioner can only be taken by the cabinet - not by the Taoiseach alone.

In his November interim report, Judge Fennelly indicated that he had re-interviewed three witnesses in an attempt to iron out conflicts in the evidence previously supplied to him.

Last month, it was reported that one of the witnesses re-interviewed was Martin Fraser, secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach and the most powerful civil servant in the country.

Then it emerged that Mr Kenny was also among those re-interviewed. Mr Kenny and his spokesman have refused to confirm or deny the reports.

While visiting the US, Kenny said: "It is an offence for anybody associated with the commission to comment on it and I do not propose to breach the law that is in place," he said.

But as we now know, this is actually not the case.

The Taoiseach's refusal to speak on the matter simply doesn't stack up.

It isn't credible. He is vulnerable to the charge that he could easily clear much of this confusion up by making a full statement to the Dail. There was never a need to ask Fennelly to investigate the Callinan resignation.

Mr Kenny has already seen off a justice minister in Alan Shatter, a Garda Commissioner in Mr Callinan and Secretary General Purcell.

He played a central role in the departures of both Shatter and Callinan, with Shatter telling this newspaper that the Taoiseach left him with little or no option to resign.

While those at the top of Government appear not to be overly concerned at what Fennelly might bring, there is mounting concern within Fine Gael as to the potential for damage.

So again we ask, what has he got to hide?

Sunday Independent