Justice issues won’t go away

The Taoiseach’s holiday from difficult questions on policing and justice is unlikely to last long, writes Political Editor Mary Regan

Justice issues won’t go away

AS HE takes a well-earned break at the end of a gruelling political year, Enda Kenny won’t be able to escape the fact that questions surrounding a range of justice issues are refusing to go away.

With a new justice minister in place, a number of difficult reports out of the way, and changes planned in policing and garda oversight, the Taoiseach could have hoped for a fresh start in September.

But events in recent days suggest the issues will be back on the political agenda in the next Dáil term — almost as much as they were in the past one.

The publication of the internal review of the Department of Justice on Monday drew criticism from the opposition.

They said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald should have issued it once it was available so TDs could have debated it while the Dáil was in session.

She made the case she had been away at UN human rights hearings in Geneva, and needed the time to consider the review’s findings.

But that delay means the report will have to be debated in the Dáil soon after it resumes, either in late September or early October. This will afford the opposition a chance to raise questions about the events leading up to the resignation of the former Garda commissioner, Martin Callinan.

The report’s findings prompted the planned departure of the secretary general, Brian Purcell, to another area of the civil service. A debate on the report will almost certainly hear the claim that he was allowed to keep his €200,000 salary to keep him sweet, so that he would not reveal what message he was given to deliver to Mr Callinan by the Taoiseach.

Such a discussion will hardly help the Coalition’s attempts to make a “fresh start” and to “take control of the agenda” in the autumn, as TDs including ministers have said is necessary.

It’s not just the opposition who are likely to be asking hard questions.

A letter from John Deasy to the Taoiseach, published in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, highlights the frustrations of Fine Gael TDs in trying to get their leader to act on the issue once controversies emerged late last year and early in this year.

The Waterford TD wrote to Mr Kenny on March 21, having failed to get any response to concerns he raised with him on February 20, when he told him the garda whistleblower would be “vindicated”.

Mr Deasy had sat through the hours of evidence from Maurice McCabe in a private meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on penalty point cancellations.

He told the Taoiseach that then justice minister, Alan Shatter needed “to deal with this in a different manner”.

He also told Mr Kenny on February 20 that there were “deficiencies” in the internal garda reports on penalty point cancellations by the assistant commissioner, John O’Mahony.

When things had not changed, five weeks later, Mr Deasy wrote: “What I and many of my colleagues don’t understand is why Alan [Shatter] would treat these whistleblowers in the manner he has in the last couple of months, particularly since it seems he has had the Garda Inspectorate report in his possession since January.”

Yet, during all this time, Mr Kenny failed to correct Mr Shatter’s false claims about the whistleblowers.

The correspondence from a Fine Gael TD suggests there was concern among the party about how Mr Kenny was handling the issue and why he did not, as Mr Deasy asked, “question Alan’s handling of the entire affair”.

“Some consideration needs to be given to the fact that the whistleblowers attempted to deal within official channels, but that those official channels did not operate correctly,” Mr Deasy told the Taoiseach. “The basic point is that they were ultimately correct in their assertions and that Government needs to recognise that.”

Another factor likely to keep the issue on the political agenda is that the Guerin Report, which examined the separate garda whistleblower allegations surrounding garda malpractice, is now the subject of a High Court case.

Mr Shatter is seeking to quash various findings in that report — which resulted in him losing his ministerial post.

In his action, he alleges objective bias, absence of fair procedures and “indecent haste” on the part of senior counsel Sean Guerin in how he compiled his report and reached conclusions critical of the minister.

September might be bring a fresh new term with a reshuffled and rejuvenated cabinet. But the same questions surrounding the handling of justice matters are unlikely to go away.

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