ALISON O'CONNOR: Fennelly Fallout: Government is treating people like they are fools

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Defence Minister Simon Coveney and Lt Commander Brian Dempsey at the commissioning ceremony for the new Naval vessel LÉ James Joyce.

IN THE world of our Taoiseach Enda Kenny if you wake up with the head of a dead horse in the bed beside you the thing to do is take it to a taxidermist and have it stuffed and mounted, writes Alison O’Connor

Don’t bother your head worrying about any hidden meanings in a dismembered animal part being placed on your pillow.

This world is without doubt a far-fetched place, where the principles of cause and effect, usually grasped in toddlerhood, appear not to apply. It is also a place where this man who has spent the vast majority of his life involved in national politics, clawed his way to the summit against the odds, and for the past four and a half years has been the top dog, in political terms, of our country, claims naivety when it comes to the implications of ordering late night, at-home meetings between senior servants of the State.

It’s difficult to come to a conclusion other than that our intelligence is being insulted by the main conclusion of the Fennelly Commission Interim Report, and the subsequent breast-beating vindication we have been subjected to from the Taoiseach.

If you were to take to the streets of Ireland and ask people what message should have been interpreted by the former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan that fateful night when then secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, turned up on his doorstep, the vast majority of people would recognise it for what it was — an invitation to resign.

Fennelly Fallout: Government is treating people like they are fools

Martin Callinan

The Taoiseach stretches credibility to the limit when he denies this was ever his intention; that Judge Fennelly accepts his point on this is jaw dropping.

As former justice minister Alan Shatter put it in his statement to Fennelly, it was his opinion, following that meeting in Government Buildings, that the Taoiseach was clearly of the view, though he did not say so, that the Garda commissioner should resign or retire.

So as Judge Fennelly himself tells us in his report the Taoiseach instructed Mr Purcell on that fateful night to deliver a message “about a matter considered to be of the utmost national gravity”.

Three of those present at that meeting, Brian Purcell, Alan Shatter, and secretary general of the Taoiseach’s Department Martin Fraser are on the same page when it comes to the view that Mr Purcell was asked to convey to the then commissioner “the gravity with which the Taoiseach viewed the matter of the Garda telephone recording systems and to ask him to consider the situation”.

Fennelly Fallout: Government is treating people like they are fools

Brian Purcell

However the Attorney General Máire Whelan and the Taoiseach, on the other hand, say Mr Purcell, while asked to convey the gravity of the Taoiseach’s concerns, “was also asked to obtain the views of the commissioner.” Yes, I know, it’s a tough call which side to come down on.

The fact is that by then the overall situation regarding justice and policing had been allowed by the Taoiseach to develop to a point where the commisioner was too politically toxic to remain on in the job. Enda Kenny, despite trying to ridiculously distract people into thinking otherwise, knew the game was up at that point. A head, as they say, was needed.

As we saw with the night of the bank guarantee, making decisions when under serious pressure and feeling caught for time can be a recipe for disaster. It has to be said though that the failure of our banking system was a matter of considerable more urgency than the one at hand at that time.

But there are other similarities — not least that earlier behaviour of those taking decisions on both nights contributed to the considerable political difficulties they were now facing. Yes Alan Shatter’s time in the ministry for justice had turned into a car crash, and Martin Callinan merited a national foot in mouth award. But that meeting that night in the Department of the Taoiseach was a culmination of months of controversy where Enda Kenny failed to show proper leadership, not least by allowing Alan Shatter to wreak political mayhem for the Government concerning the alleged bugging of the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) and the Garda whistleblowers.

Fennelly Fallout: Government is treating people like they are fools

Alan Shatter

Remember when the GSOC bugging story broke? The Taoiseach concentrated on the fact that the Garda Ombudsman should have told the Government about their suspicions concerning the bugging of its offices, as, he said, it was legally obliged to do. Most people found it far more alarming that those charged with policing our police force may have had their office bugged.

As it happens the relevant section Section 80.5 of the Garda Siochána Act 2005 told a different story. Mr Kenny finally acknowledged the wording of the legislation did not require GSOC to report to the minister for justice but that the provision in law meant that the commission may report to the minister.

“If my words were excessive in their meaning then I regret that,” he said to reporters at the time.

The man has entirely too much form when it comes to this entire Justice debacle. As that particular aspect of it showed, throwing GSOC under a bus was considered acceptable behaviour, in order to protect the Government. So far so consistent.

Last Tuesday we witnessed a Government spin operation which would have made Fianna Fáil in its heyday blush. The same people who partook in that exercise will shake their heads in despair when next discussing the cynicism of the public towards politicians. Labour, with it’s every dwindling poll numbers, stayed on the sidelines. Would that they all might apply the same energy and verve to, for instance, sorting out the homeless problem.

It is a reflection of where we are at politically that tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Dublin to protest last Saturday, ostensibly against the water charges, but really over a whole host of reasons, and we had relatively little public comment or coverage.

It is a fact of our political life now that this many people are so disillusioned they will make their way to Dublin to protest en masse.

The Government operation this week, led by the Taoiseach, to treat those people are if they are fools, is very disappointing. But even those who are not trenchantly anti-Government, and would largely support the work that the Coalition did in rescuing the economy, recognise this sort of behaviour for the cod that it is. They too are weary of it.

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