By Michael Clifford
There are two outstanding conclusions from the Fennelly interim report which was published today, writes Michael Clifford.
The first is that Enda Kenny through an emissary supplied then garda commissioner Martin Callinan with the metaphorical revolver and bottle of whiskey with which to ponder the future of his career.
The other conclusion is that by the time that deed was done, Kenny and his attorney general Marie Whelan had completely lost confidence in the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter as a result of his performance over the previous three months.
Enda Kenny did not, in the strictest legal sense, fire the commissioner.
If he had done so, he would have acted outside his powers and would now have to resign. Such a course would rob Kenny of the chance for a historic re-election as Taoiseach.
The commission chaired by Niall Fennelly, found as a fact that Kenny did not fire the commissioner.
In all probability the sole member came to the correct legal conclusion based on the evidence he heard.
Yet, there remains a smell off the whole affair, a sense that Kenny abused the spirit of the power vested in him for naked political reasons primarily concerned with cleaning up a mess created in part by himself and his Minister for Justice.
Martin Callinan’s departure was ostensibly linked to the discovery by the Attorney General on March 20 and 21 that there had been widespread taping of phone calls in garda stations around the country for up to thirty years.
AG Marie Whelan considered this a very grave situation, which could have involved widespread criminality.
Whelan did not inform Alan Shatter, who had nominal responsibility for the gardai. She did not inform Callinan because that was Shatter’s job.
If her alarm had been conveyed through Shatter to the garda commissioner, he could have told one and all that he had a fortnight previously sent a letter to the department about this matter, including the steps he was taking to bring it to a resolution.
But Whelan by then considered Shatter “to be part of the narrative” of the various garda controversies that were dogging the government. So she went directly to the top man, Kenny.
On receipt of the news, the Taoiseach did not inform Shatter. He told Fennelly that that was his right, but it was a hell of a strange decision for a Taoiseach under the circumstances. Did he by then consider Shatter to be more likely a problem that a means to a solution?
According to Fennelly: “The commission finds it difficult to avoid the conclusion that a decision was made not to include the minister in discussions of the telephone recording matter on Sunday and most of Monday.”
The following evening, Monday March 24, Kenny finally brought Shatter inside the tent by convened a meeting with him, Whelan and the secretary general of his own department Martin Frazer to consider action.
The Taoiseach did not invite the garda commissioner to the meeting, which might have cleared up a few misunderstandings.
Maybe Kenny considered that it was enough hassle to have Shatter in the room, not to mind dragging in his partner-in-controversy, Callinan.
A conclusion was reached that somebody should be sent to convey to Callinan the concern felt about the enveloping situation - Brian Purcell, the secretary general of the Department of Justice.
Brian Purcell was regarded as the best man for that job, and was sent for. All who were present assured Fennelly that Callinan’s resignation was never discussed at the meeting.
Yet, Purcell told the commission he “was shocked and concerned at what he was being asked to do. He told the meeting on more than one occasion that it was wrong”.
What was so wrong with conveying concern? That’s all Enda wanted done.
Shatter “was firmly of the view that the commissioner was expected by the Taoiseah to consider his position”, according to Fennelly’s report. Et tu, Alan? But Kenny is adamant that there was no question of anybody considering their position.
Callinan got a similar impression once the news was delivered to him by Purcell. “I was very clear in my own mind that I didn’t have options,” he told Fennelly.
So Purcell was shocked at being asked to do something “wrong”, Shatter was convinced that Purcell was being sent to put it up to Callinan and the man himself felt he was being backed into a corner.
Yet Kenny is adamant that that was not what he was about. And Fennelly has backed the Taoiseach in his report, which is probably legally sound, although it would be terribly interesting to see what, for instance, a jury would conclude about the totality of facts surrounding the commissioner’s departure.
Context is required. Callinan had been an embarrassment though the controversies that led up to that weekend. Yet the government, and particularly Shatter and Kenny had backed him all the way.
Both politicians also bore culpability for the loss of political capital as a result of the controversies.
Shatter had been a disaster, lacking the basic political faculties required sometimes to admit a mistake and move to rectify it with commensurate humility.
Callinan’s departure from the stage would at least take the heat out of matters, especially as a new controversy had just walked in the door. But he was done a wrong.
If he was to be asked to leave, it should have been for the right reasons, not for political expediency.
He bore no culpability for the phone recording controversy that had blown up. The letter he had dispatched to Shatter two weeks previously had not reached the minister, but even if it had it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that somebody decided that a sacrifice had to be made.
The Taoiseach didn’t fire the garda commissioner. Enda Kenny did not instruct or ask Martin Callinan to step down from his post.
He did, however, have his feelings on the matter of Callinan’s continuing tenure conveyed in no uncertain terms. That’s how those involved read it anyway. There’s really no other way to interpret it.
You can read the report in full below.