Kenny’s novel approach to Shattergate

Shattergate has now turned into the Agatha Christie mystery Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? rewritten as Why Didn’t They Tell Alan?

Enda Kenny informs us that he met with Alan Shatter and justice department chief Brian Purcell on Monday, March 24, and decided to send an emissary to Garda commissioner Martin Callinan to express their disquiet over the Garda station bugging scandal.

A bit strange, but let’s stick with it.

Then they choose to send Purcell to make the highly unusual visit, but Purcell does not use this moment to inform them that, two weeks previously, Callinan had sent a letter marked for Shatter’s attention on the very bugging scandal they were so concerned about.

Opposition leaders insisted the scenario defied belief. And it does sound most odd, but it must be true because Kenny has said so in the Dáil — just like Kenny said the purpose of that visit under the cloak of darkness was not to effectively sack Callinan.

Unfortunately for Kenny, a few people do not really seem to believe him, which is a very dangerous position for a Taoiseach to be in.

And, according to this version of events, nobody bothered telling the justice minister about a major crisis that has profound implications for the justice system.

Most curious.

In Leaders’ Questions yesterday, Kenny appeared as slippery as a ski-slope, and heading in exactly the same direction — downhill.

Key questions on the affair were openly evaded, while the Taoiseach just ignored others, throwing out shiny snippets of distraction to try and divert attention.

The biggest blind alley he tried to lead the country down was centred on why the attorney general did not want to discuss the bugging situation with him on the phone.

In a rambling aside, Kenny reminded Gerry Adams of an encounter at an event years ago when the Sinn Féin leader and Martin McGuinness asked if they could take him away to the side of the stage for a conversation as they could not discuss it on the phone.

“Gerry, you cannot take me away anywhere, but I am happy to talk to you,” the Taoiseach reminisced for Adams, as if in an old people’s home day-room.

To which the Sinn Féin leader told the Dáil: “It is on the public record that my telephone is being tapped.”

So, the little meander did not get us very far, but ate up more time when Kenny could have been providing real answers.

When asked why the justice minister was not aware of the urgent Callinan letter for two weeks, we were told Alan had been very busy, as, among other engagements, he had a book launch at the Distillery Building to attend. It’s good to see he’s earning the €157,000 we pay him.

At this point it all began to look like an elaborate Government practical joke timed to climax on April Fools’ Day, but the reality was far worse — this is just business as usual for the justice minister.

As the no confidence motion got under way, the minister refused to answer any of the outstanding questions, the Government’s credibility lay dead on the Dáil floor, and Shatter looked in the frame for it — Murder on the Oireachtas Express, as Ms Christie might have styled it.

Q: At a meeting on March 24 involving the Taoiseach, Alan Shatter, Department of Justice general secretary Brian Purcell, which decided to send Mr Purcell to visit Martin Callinan, why did Mr Purcell not inform the other two that Mr Callinan had written to the department about that matter two weeks previously?

A: The Taoiseach said: “There was no discussion at that meeting about the letter or its contents.” Pressed on whether Mr Kenny would have expected to receive such information, his spokesperson said: “It would have been a reasonable expectation.”

Q: What did Attorney General Máire Whelan know about the scandal?

A: The Commissioner’s March 10 letter states the AG was informed of the situation in November, adding: “I further liaised with the AG’s office in respect of all recordings which have been collated to date.”

Q: Why did this not set alarm bells ringing, and why did Ms Whelan not tell the Taoiseach, or any member of Cabinet, until March 23?

A: No answer provided.

Q: Why did Ms Whelan feel she could not tell the Taoiseach about this on the telephone. Did she believe their phones were bugged?

A: Mr Kenny told Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams: “I am reminded of the day that I was at the opening of the McAleese Bridge across the River Boyne when Deputy Adams and the deputy first minister came to me and asked if they could take me away to the side of the stage for a conversation. Deputy Adams said to me: ‘We need to speak to you about an important matter that we cannot discuss with you on the telephone.’ ”

Mr Adams replied: “It is on the public record that my telephone is being tapped.”

Q: Why, despite it being a matter of “state security”, did the Taoiseach not tell the justice minister about the bugging scandal for 24 hours?

A: Mr Kenny avoided directly answering the question, stating: “Having been informed by the Attorney General the prior evening about these matters I felt that there were of such concern and gravity that I should reflect carefully on them and bring them to the attention of the Government, the Dáil, and the leaders of the opposition. From that point of view, the Government made its decision to set up a commission of investigation, which is being followed through today.”

Q: Why was Mr Shatter not told of a follow-up meeting in his department on March 11, the day after the letter arrived, involving officials, the commissioner and the attorney general?

A: No answer provided.

Q: Why did the Commissioner and the justice minister never discuss the garda bugging scandal?

A: No answer provided.

Q: Did the gardaí want to destroy the pre-2008 phone-tapping tapes?

A: No answer provided.

Q: Why did the attorney general feel the need to give an order to prevent this happening?

A: Mr Kenny told the Dáil: “Regardless of whether those tapes are legal or illegal, the question of their retention and what to do with them was the subject of a letter from the previous Garda commissioner to the data commissioner. The attorney general ruled that no tapes should be destroyed.”

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