Fennelly Fallout: Fitzgerald stands by attorney general in spite of criticisms

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said she has full confidence in Attorney General Máire Whelan despite criticisms of her following publication of the Fennelly Report.

Sinn Féin has called on the Government’s chief legal adviser to resign and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said she had “serious questions to answer”.

The report highlighted Ms Whelan’s failure to recognise the significance of the Garda telephone recordings issue when it was first brought to her attention by the then Garda commissioner four months before it escalated into a crisis.

It also stressed her failure to inform then justice minister Alan Shatter about the issue, only bringing it to the attention of Taoiseach Enda Kenny in March of last year when it had reached what she feared was an emergency situation.

Questions were also raised as to why her initial account to the Fennelly Commission of that emergency meeting with Mr Kenny was “substantially modified” by her on a later occasion.

Ms Whelan had given evidence to the commission that she told the Taoiseach that the recordings amounted to “criminal activity” by the gardaí acting with “total disregard for the requirements of ministerial authorisation and of the rights of citizens under the Constitution”.

She wrote to the commission in May of this year expressing regret for her use of “trenchant language” in her earlier evidence which she said had left the commission under an “erroneous impression” that she had identified criminal behaviour when all she meant to suggest was that there may have been potential illegality.

Fennelly Fallout: Fitzgerald stands by attorney general in spite of criticisms

Attorney General Máire Whelan

The minister stood firmly by Ms Whelan however. “We have an excellent attorney general who has overseen some of the most reforming legislation this country has ever seen and I have full confidence in her,” she said.

She said the essential point of Ms Whelan’s briefing of the Taoiseach did not change between her original account of it and her modified version, regardless of the language she used.

She also pointed out that the legality, or otherwise, of the recordings had yet to be determined as the second tranche of the Fennelly Commission’s work involves an extensive investigation into the practice over a 30-year-period which will not be complete for some time yet.

Ms Whelan became the first ever female attorney general in March 2011. A political appointee, she is due to stand down after the general election although an incoming government could choose to reappoint her.

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