Casualties of cover-up culture

THOSE are some waves that Maurice McCabe made. Yesterday’s publication of the review of the Department of Justice is just one in a long line of outcomes from McCabe’s persistence in attempting to highlight wrongdoing in An Garda Síochána.

A minister, a garda commissioner, and the secretary general of the department have now all left their posts, directly as a result of McCabe’s persistence. More importantly, the oversight of the Force is to be transformed, and the department is to get a much needed makeover. Not a bad day’s work for a lowly garda sergeant.

The most pressing question to come out of yesterday’s review is the one that won’t go away. Was Martin Callinan effectively sacked as garda commissioner in the name of political expediency?

The review has painted a picture of a department that is, literally, all over the shop. It is strewn with phrases such as “an inward looking organisation with limited-learning capacity and reduced openness to new ideals”; a culture that is “closed and unnecessarily secretive”; “management oversight is weak”, leading to a “lack of oversight and accountability” when dealing with outside agencies.

The bad stuff goes on and on.

Following the publication, the secretary general Brian Purcell has “asked to be assigned to other responsibilities in the public service”.

In an accountable organisation, or practically any other democracy, Mr Purcell would now be simply leaving. Instead, he’s moving sideways.

On one level, this is the way things are done. Top bods who fall foul of political masters for reasons of performance or otherwise, don’t lose their jobs. The former secretary general of the Department of Finance Kevin Cardiff, even got promoted, in financial terms at any rate, picking up a number on the European Court of Auditors.

Purcell won’t be that lucky, but perhaps there are mitigating circumstances in his case. The dysfunction highlighted in the review didn’t just happen since he took the helm three years ago. It’s long-term, and cultural. Should he carry the can for that?

There may be other reasons why Purcell has been able to secure a soft landing from the top job in Justice. On the evening of March 24, he was dispatched to Callinan’s home to convey the displeasure of Enda Kenny at ongoing garda controversies. The most recent controversy at that time was the alleged widespread recording of telephone calls in garda stations, now the subject of a commission of inquiry under Niall Fennelly. There was also the ongoing controversy over the handling of whistleblowers within the force.

The day after Purcell’s visit, Callinan resigned. The circumstances around what was conveyed to the commissioner to prompt him to resign have been parked in Fennelly. Kenny didn’t have the power to sack the commissioner, but there is a growing suspicion that he effectively did so, through his messenger, Purcell. This theory has it that Callinan’s resignation was designed to save then-justice minister Alan Shatter’s political skin.

As of yesterday’s publication, it might also be speculated that something was required to gloss over the appalling manner in which the department had handled the controversies. Again, it’s easy to see why Callinan’s head might have been viewed as acceptable collateral damage.

All of which puts Purcell at the centre of the affair. He knows exactly what transpired. Would it be politically wise to allow such a man slink off bearing a grudge?

On Sunday, it was reported that Fennelly has come across practically no cases of illegal recording, apart from in Bandon, which was connected to the Sophie Tuscan du Plantier murder. That prompts the question: Why was Fennelly set up in such haste? Surely not to deflect from the controversies that were ongoing? Also, why was the circumstances of Callinan’s departure included in Fennelly? Surely not to park the issue until beyond the next general election?

While it mightn’t be politically prudent to sack Purcell, it could well be argued that neither would it be fair. After all, he was merely doing the Taoiseach’s bidding.

Would it be fair on top of that to blame him for the cultural dysfunction in the department?

In any event, Callinan’s sacking didn’t stop the rot. Shatter had to subsequently resign.

When Shatter was still in office, he sacked the confidential recipient Oliver Connolly. Now, Purcell has been moved, rather than sacked. The last man standing from the garda controversies, and specifically the departure of Callinan, is Enda Kenny.

And he’s not talking. The Taoiseach believes that such a position is tenable.

Somebody needs to explain to him that that’s no way to run a democracy.


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