During Leaders’ Questions, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made very direct criticisms of Ms Whelan when speaking in the wake of the second Fennelly Commission report, which found the recording of phone calls in Garda stations to be unlawful.
Mr Martin said Ms Whelan’s panic led to the departure of then garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in 2014, despite acting appropriately on this matter.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, responding to the stinging criticisms, described Mr Martin’s comments as “quite extraordinary”, adding the attorney general acted appropriately and was “quite justified” in raising alarm.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Martin said: “It is very clear that the alarmist and over-reactive response of the Government forced the removal of a garda commissioner on that specific issue.
“Essentially, a garda commissioner was removed and the law governing the removal of a garda commissioner was bypassed, eventually leading to a resignation which covered all the technicalities.
“Cabinet approval was not sought. It did not happen on that occasion and the reason was a panicked, alarmist, over-reactive response from the Taoiseach and the attorney general.”
Mr Martin said the attorney general bypassed the then justice minister Alan Shatter, and went straight to the Taoiseach to say that the heavens were about to fall and that something needed to happen.
“It is extraordinary that an attorney general would have bypassed a minister for justice and equality in that context,” he said.
“Does the Taoiseach accept that the failure of the attorney general to inform the then minister for justice and equality about the telephone recording issue was wrong and could not be defended? What is the Taoiseach’s position on that? Does the Taoiseach believe that the actions of the attorney general on this issue were proper and appropriate.”
In response, Mr Kenny said: “Yes I do. The comments made by Deputy Martin are quite extraordinary. He would attack an officer of the State who is not here to respond. The attorney general is adviser to the Government.
"She became aware of matters that she could not have known about, nor did anybody else know, or the extent of them. These were quite serious matters and she acted quite appropriately and properly in bringing them to my attention as Taoiseach.”
Mr Martin said the sending of then secretary general at the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, to Mr Callinan’s house was “not normal”, and nor is it normal when a commissioner happens to resign the following morning.
The Taoiseach responded by saying the finding of Justice Fennelly was that the former garda commissioner “decided to retire”.
He said: “In the second Fennelly report, the attorney general was quite justified in bringing to the attention of the public, and to myself as Taoiseach, an extraordinary situation whereby hundreds of thousands of phone calls over a very long period were made to certain Garda stations and were recorded unlawfully.”