A RUNNING trend in the ongoing series of controversies hanging over the Department of Justice is that every time we try to get to the bottom of one element of the story, a new revelation is thrown into the mix.
And so it was in the Dáil yesterday when the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, probed Enda Kenny about the internal government handling of information on phone bugging in Garda stations, when the Taoiseach revealed that some phone calls in prisons were inadvertently recorded.
But the fresh news line should not be allowed to distract from the important questions about the Government’s handling of information last week and who knew what when.
The main questions centre around a letter sent by the then Garda commissioner, Martin Callinan, on March 10 — and why its contents were not revealed to the Taoiseach or the justice minister until last Tuesday — two weeks and one day later.
The Taoiseach described how a meeting took place last Monday night — March 24 — between himself, the Justice Minister Alan Shatter, the secretary generals of both their departments, and the Attorney General.
One of the five people in this meeting, Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department of Justice, already had this letter for two weeks informing him of the practice under discussion, and how it was being addressed.
However, according to the Taoiseach’s account to the Dáil during Leader’s Questions yesterday, the letter was not raised during the Monday night meeting.
“There was no discussion about the letter or about its contents at that meeting,” he said, backing up Mr Shatter’s version of events that he did not see the letter until the next morning.
Mr Martin, said he found this “somewhat incredible and difficult to comprehend”.
He said it was “inconceivable” that Mr Shatter would not have been briefed by his officials about the recording issue at 6pm on Monday, but not told about the letter.
Furthermore, Mr Purcell was then sent by the Taoiseach on that Monday evening to the home of Mr Callinan, to inform him that the Cabinet was worried about the phone recording issue.
However, he still, according to the Taoiseach, did not mention that the commissioner had already raised concerns about it in a letter.
It’s “even more incredible” Mr Martin said “that the very man that gets the letter is sent out by you, to the commissioner, to have a discussion that the Cabinet are unhappy about this, you better reflect on it”.
“The two people who are having the conversation out in the house both know about the correspondence,” he said.
The Opposition leader said it “defies belief” that Mr Shatter would not have been informed of the letter on the Monday night.
He told the Taoiseach: “You could not but be aware about the contents of it in discussions on the phone recordings.”
The massive hole in the story was not addressed by the Taoiseach and poses one very important question: Did he have the full information needed when he sent a message to Mr Callinan on Monday night which sources close to the former Garda commissioner say essentially amounted to sacking him?
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said there would be a “reasonable expectation” that Mr Purcell would inform him of the letter.
But if we accept the Taoiseach’s word that he did not, why is he willing to accept a secretary general not doing what is expected of him?