Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s role in the departure of Garda commissioner Martin Callinan was “at the very least, improper” and paid “scant regard” to legal and political norms, says a legal expert.
The comments come as the Dáil today debates a Government motion of confidence in the Taoiseach in response to a Fianna Fáil no-confidence motion based on the Fennelly report.
Kent University law professor Dermot Walsh said that, from his assessment of Fennelly, Mr Kenny sent Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell “to invite Callinan to consider his position”.
He said he would have concluded that Mr Kenny had intended to put pressure on Mr Callinan to go, “only for the explicit acceptance” by Justice Fennelly of Mr Kenny’s assurances that he had no such intention.
Prof Walsh, who has written extensively on policing, criminal justice, and police governance in Ireland, said it was “fanciful” to think Mr Callinan would consider his position as “other than untenable”.
He said this was in the context of an unprecedented late-night visit to his home by Mr Purcell expressing the grave concerns of Mr Kenny regarding the Garda taping scandal and the Taoiseach’s fear he might not be able to express confidence in Mr Callinan if asked.
Prof Walsh said Mr Kenny was then in a “difficult political position”.
“There was a very real prospect that his own position would have been seriously damaged by being forced to do a volte face in the Cabinet meeting and/or in succeeding days on his publicly-declared confidence in the commissioner,” he said.
If unable to express confidence, Prof Walsh said, Mr Kenny could have been manoeuvred into a position whereby he might have had to accept initiating a process to remove Mr Callinan.
“It was very much in his interests, therefore, for the commissioner to announce his immediate retirement before any of those issues had to be faced,” said Prof Walsh.
“I find support for that view in the haste with which Kenny moved in the matter, his isolation of the Minister for Justice, his extraordinary and unprecedented action in having Purcell sent out... and the absence of any real attempt to get the full facts before acting.
“I would argue that Kenny’s action in having Purcell sent out to the commissioner’s house with the message that he brought was, at the very least, improper; it paid scant respect to the legal and political norms in this area.”
He said power to remove a commissioner lay with the Cabinet, not the Taoiseach, and the issue should have come before Cabinet firstly.
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