Enda Kenny is faced with uncomfortable questions about events leading up to the resignation of the former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, and his role in what many claim was his sacking.
Frances Fitzgerald made her first Dáil speech as justice minister yesterday, promising to restore trust in the gardaí and deliver “a justice system we can be proud of”.
However, a commitment to restoring faith and confidence will ring hollow until Kenny explains his role in Callinan’s departure.
Kenny had hoped the issue had gone away — or at least been pushed out.
It was blown back into the open yesterday after Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald produced the Taoiseach’s diary in the Dáil, which she had received following a Freedom of Information request.
It showed he met with Alan Shatter and Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department of Justice, early on a Sunday in March — just two days before Callinan’s resignation.
This contradicted Kenny’s previous version of events — that he met the Attorney General on that Sunday evening when she told him of concerns about the practice of phone recordings at Garda stations.
On the following Monday evening, Kenny sent Purcell to Callinan’s home to express — according to his own version of events — Cabinet concern over the recording issue. The contents of that visit remain a mystery and the following morning, the commissioner announced his retirement.
Senior garda sources have said he was made a “scapegoat” for the controversies of his political masters.
The Government played down the significance of McDonald’s FoI document, saying the meeting never took place on the Sunday morning and this was merely a clerical error.
Whether or not the meeting took place, questions must be answered on why Purcell was sent to Callinan’s home.
Professor of law at Kent University, Dermot Walsh, previously said in this newspaper that pushing a commissioner out of office is “subversive” of legislation.
The Garda Síochána Act 2005, sections 11 and 12, say if a government wants to dismiss a commissioner, it has to follow a process:
- The commissioner must be informed the government intends to consider the matter and provided with a statement of reasons;
- The commissioner must be given an opportunity to respond;
- The decision is taken by the collective cabinet.
“If you are removing a commissioner you must go through a fair procedure,” said Walsh. “What happened, it seems to me, is the usual Irish attempt to circumvent statutory requirements of legislation. If you are sacked, you go through a whole process. It could not be done in a day.”
Sacking a minister is fair game in politics. But sacking a Garda commissioner for political reasons undermines the administration of justice in a democracy.
Sinn Féin has demanded a public response from Kenny and Fianna Fáil said he should make himself available to the justice committee to face questions on the matter.
With just a week to go to the elections, it’s a matter the will want to avoid. But questions need to be answered if the Taoiseach’s own clearly expressed goal can be achieved: The restoration of faith and confidence in the justice system and policing.