Government ministers have closed ranks to defend Taoiseach Enda Kenny from growing opposition calls for his resignation, backing the Fine Gael leader’s claim the Fennelly report has cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Potential future party leaders Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald insisted yesterday the Taoiseach has been exonerated by the controversial report into the retirement of ex-Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.
Department of Finance junior minister Simon Harris also defended Mr Kenny’s position, while Labour’s Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin echoed Tánaiste Joan Burton’s view the Taoiseach has no questions to answer.
However, despite the staunch defence, Mr Kenny — who leaves this morning for a two-day State trip to France — is facing growing opposition calls for his resignation and two motions of no confidence amid an increasing backlash over what Fianna Fáil said is his “shifty, underhand” role in the saga.
The day of coalition wagon circling began when Mr Varadkar appeared on RTÉ Radio’s flagship Morning Ireland programme to dismiss claims Mr Kenny effectively sacked Mr Callinan by proxy on March 25, 2014.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar
The Fennelly Report found while Mr Kenny did not specifically ask Mr Callinan to depart, his decision to send a senior civil servant to his home late at night to personally voice concerns was the “immediate catalyst” for the retirement.
However, Mr Varadkar told the programme the report “debunked” the idea Mr Kenny sacked Mr Callinan either personally or through “constructive dismissal”, saying: “The commissioner decided to retire.”
The health minister’s appearance was followed by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who in a lengthy interview told Today with Sean O’Rourke “the commission accepts the Taoiseach did not intend to put pressure on the commissioner to retire, that’s a finding of fact”.
She said the retirement was “entirely up to the commissioner”, a view she repeated later that day.
The Fennelly report states while this is the case, it was “reasonable” for Mr Callinan to conclude he was being asked to “consider his position”.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Junior minister Simon Harris followed by telling RTE’s Drivetime programme the “very stark politically charged accusation” Mr Kenny sacked Mr Callinan “has been refuted by a Supreme Court judge” and — like Mr Varadkar —shifted some blame to the ex-garda commissioner and ex-department of justice secretary general Brian Purcell as “information wasn’t conveyed”.
Labour’s Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin separately said the report found that “not only was the garda commissioner not sacked by the Taoiseach, in fact he [Fennelly] accepted it wasn’t the Taoiseach’s intention to put pressure on him to resign”.
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin
The position, which was the only public statement from any senior Labour figure yesterday with a number of ministers not returning calls, echoed Tánaiste Joan Burton’s Tuesday night comments.
A government spokesperson simply said the Fennelly report was “noted” at Cabinet and that Mr Kenny has the Coalition’s “full confidence”. However, despite the attempt to protect the Taoiseach, the opposition has been out in force to insist on a very different version of events.
Speaking outside Leinster House beside his justice spokesperson Niall Collins, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his party is lodging a motion of no confidence in Mr Kenny and wants the Dáil to return next week instead of September 23 to address the Fennelly revelations.
Niall Collins TD
He said the document makes it clear Mr Kenny “engineered” Mr Callinan’s retirement and that “in the real world that is effectively a sacking”.
He said the “manner in which he presented the report, giving media and others about 10 minutes to digest” the 300-page document on an unsearchable website version beset with technical difficulties before his only post-publication interview to date was “unacceptable”.
“The Taoiseach has had too many fall guys,” he said, noting the departures of Mr Callinan, ex-justice minister Alan Shatter and ex-department of justice secretary general Mr Purcell.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams mirrored the concern saying Mr Kenny should immediately resign alongside attorney general Maire Whelan, a Labour appointee, as “no amount of spin” can “disguise” the fact “Callinan was sacked”.
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