MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Fennelly Report: Cleaning up a political mess

The Fennelly report found that Mr Kenny did not fire Martin Callinan, yet there remains a smell off the whole affair, writes Michael Clifford

There are two outstanding conclusions from the Fennelly interim report.

The first is that Enda Kenny, via an emissary, supplied then garda commissioner Martin Callinan with the metaphorical revolver and bottle of whiskey with which to ponder the future of his career.

The other conclusion is that, by the time that deed was done, Mr Kenny and his attorney general, Marie Whelan, had completely lost confidence in the minister for justice, Alan Shatter, as a result of his performance over the previous three months.

Fennelly Report: Cleaning up a political mess

Enda Kenny

Mr Kenny did not, in the strictest legal sense, fire the commissioner. If he had done so, he would have acted outside his powers and would now have to resign. Such a course would rob Mr Kenny of the chance for a historic re-election as taoiseach.

The commission, chaired by Niall Fennelly, found as a fact that Mr Kenny did not fire the commissioner.

In all probability, the sole member came to the correct legal conclusion based on the evidence he heard. Yet there remains a smell off the whole affair, a sense that Mr Kenny abused the spirit of the power vested in him for naked political reasons primarily concerned with cleaning up a mess created in part by himself and his minister for justice.

Mr Callinan’s departure was ostensibly linked to the discovery by the attorney general on March 20 and 21 that there had been widespread taping of phonecalls in garda stations around the country for up to 30 years. Ms Whelan considered this a very grave situation, which could have involved widespread criminality.

Ms Whelan did not inform Mr Shatter, who had nominal responsibility for the gardaí. She did not inform Mr Callinan because that was Mr Shatter’s job. If her alarm had been conveyed through Mr Shatter to the garda commissioner, he could have told one and all that he had a fortnight previously sent a letter to the department about this matter, including the steps he was taking to bring the matter to a resolution.

Fennelly Report: Cleaning up a political mess

Marie Whelan, Attorney General

But Ms Whelan by then considered Mr Shatter “to be part of the narrative” of the various garda controversies that were dogging the Government. So she went directly to the top man — Mr Kenny.

On receipt of the news, the Taoiseach did not inform Mr Shatter. He told Mr Fennelly that that was his right, but it was a hell of a strange decision for a taoiseach under the circumstances. Did he by then consider Mr Shatter to be more likely a problem than a means to a solution?

According to Mr Fennelly: “The commission finds it difficult to avoid the conclusion that a decision was made not to include the minister in discussions of the telephone recording matter on Sunday and most of Monday.”

The following evening, Monday, March 24, Mr Kenny finally brought Mr Shatter inside the tent by convening a meeting with him, Ms Whelan and the secretary general of his own department, Martin Frazer, to consider action.

The Taoiseach did not invite the garda commissioner to the meeting, which might have cleared up a few misunderstandings. Maybe Mr Kenny considered that it was enough hassle to have Mr Shatter in the room, not to mind dragging in his partner-in-controversy, Mr Callinan.

A conclusion was reached that somebody should be sent to convey to Mr Callinan the concern felt on high about the enveloping situation. Brian Purcell, the secretary general of the Department of Justice, was regarded as the best man for that job, and was sent for. All who were present assured Mr Fennelly that Mr Callinan’s resignation was never discussed at the meeting.

Fennelly Report: Cleaning up a political mess

Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, with the former secretary general of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell and former Fine Gael Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter at an event in 2012

Yet Mr Purcell told the commission he “was shocked and concerned” at what he was being asked to do.

He told the meeting on more than one occasion that “it was wrong”. What was so wrong with conveying concern? That’s all Mr Kenny wanted done.

Mr Shatter “was firmly of the view that the commissioner was expected by the Taoiseah to consider his position”, according to Fennelly’s report. Et tu, Alan? But Mr Kenny is adamant that there was no question of anybody considering their position.

Mr Callinan got a similar impression once the news was delivered to him by Mr Purcell.

“I was very clear in my own mind that I didn’t have options,” he told Fennelly.

So Mr Purcell was shocked at being asked to do something “wrong”, Mr Shatter was convinced that Mr Purcell was being sent to put it up to Mr Callinan, and the man himself felt he was being backed into a corner.

Yet Mr Kenny is adamant that that was not what he was about. And Fennelly has backed the Taoiseach in his report, which is probably legally sound, although it would be terribly interesting to see what, for instance, what a jury would conclude about the totality of facts surrounding the commissioner’s departure.

Context is required. Mr Callinan had been an embarrassment through the controversies that led up to that weekend. Yet the Government, and particularly Mr Shatter and Mr Kenny, had backed him all the way.

Both politicians also bore culpability for the loss of political capital as a result of the controversies.

Mr Shatter had been a disaster, lacking the basic political faculties required sometimes to admit a mistake and move to rectify it with commensurate humility.

Mr Callinan’s departure from the stage would at least take the heat out of matters, especially as a new controversy had just walked in the door.

But he was done a wrong. If he was to be asked to leave, it should have been for the right reasons, not for political expediency.

He bore no culpability for the phone recording controversy that had blown up. The letter he had dispatched to Mr Shatter two weeks previously had not reached the minister but, even if it had, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that somebody decided that a sacrifice had to be made.

The Taoiseach didn’t fire the garda commissioner. Mr Kenny did not instruct or ask Mr Callinan to step down from his post.

He did, however, have his feelings on the matter of Mr Callinan’s continuing tenure conveyed in no uncertain terms.

That’s how those involved read it anyway. There really no other way to interpret it.


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