Taoiseach Enda Kenny is facing a political storm after the former Garda commissioner, Martin Callinan, said he felt he had been left with no option but to resign after Mr Kenny dispatched a top official to his house over a phone recording scandal.
While the Fennelly Commission report ruled Mr Kenny did not sack the police chief or pressure him into quitting, his orders left him no choice but, as Mr Callinan said, to “walk off the pitch”.
Mr Kenny’s claims the report vindicated him were quickly rubbished by the opposition. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Taoiseach’s version of events were neither “credible nor tenable”.
Coalition partners Labour are standing by Mr Kenny, stating that the report “makes clear the ultimate decision to retire lay with the then Garda commissioner and that there was no directive issued by the Taoiseach”.
However, that will do little to quell the political fallout that is likely to envelop the Government.
Mr Callinan announced his retirement last year on the morning of Tuesday, March 25, after a string of controversies dogged the force, the last involving revelations of widespread taping of phone calls at Garda stations.
However, the inquiry found the catalyst for his shock departure came in the final 36 hours, when the Taoiseach held high-level meetings and sent a senior civil servant to visit his top Garda.
Judge Niall Fennelly’s long-running investigation found Mr Callinan was shocked and could not understand why Brian Purcell, the head of the Department of Justice, asked to see him in his family home at 11pm on a Monday night — the day before he stepped down.
Mr Justice Fennelly described this visit — made on the orders of Mr Kenny — as “an event without precedent”.
The report said that Mr Purcell made the following clear to Mr Callinan:
The report said that Mr Callinan’s views or response were not sought by Mr Purcell, and the Taoiseach had not requested him to seek it.
“The Garda commissioner interpreted the message delivered to him by Mr Purcell on behalf of the Taoiseach, with all its attendant circumstances, as an indication that he should consider his position; in the view of the commission, that was a reasonable conclusion for the commissioner to reach,” said Mr Justice Fennelly.
He quoted Mr Callinan’s evidence: “I was very clear in my own mind that I didn’t have options.”
Mr Justice Fennelly said that then justice minister Alan Shatter — who was called to attend the meeting in the Taoiseach’s office on March 24 — “was firmly of the view the commissioner was expected by the Taoiseach to consider his position”.
The inquiry also uncovered a communication meltdown involving the Taoiseach’s office, the attorney general, and the Department of Justice over who knew what and when about the Garda taping of phone calls.
Mr Kenny said he was first made aware of recorded phone calls in Garda district headquarters, going back to the 1980s in some cases, on March 23.
The inquiry found a letter had been sent by former commissioner Mr Callinan to the Department of Justice alerting officials and Mr Shatter to the scandal two weeks earlier, but it was not acted on.
The Fennelly report said that, had Mr Callinan’s letter of March 10 been made known to Mr Kenny and others, things “would not have unfolded the way they did”.
He said had Mr Shatter not been excluded from the decision-making — an action of the Taoiseach — things would have been “significantly different”.
He said no one contacted either Mr Shatter or Mr Callinan about the matter before making the decision to send Mr Purcell to the commissioner’s home.
Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and other Opposition parties accused Mr Kenny of spinning the report’s findings and called for him to resign. Mr Martin said the Government’s response to the findings was “scandalous” and “outrageous” and that Mr Kenny’s claim that the document cleared his name was “untenable”.
Sinn Féin social protection spokesman, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said Mr Kenny should “now consider his position”.
Independent TD Clare Daly said that while the Taoiseach thinks he has ridden the storm, “it is only just beginning”.
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