Government survives its biggest crisis in bombshell week reminiscent of Gubu era
Retirement of Garda commissioner stuns Cabinet as Shatter survives
Alan Shatter: When the time came for him to make his statement on penalty points that afternoon – where he would say sorry to the Garda whistleblowers – there would be no repeat of the morning’s pugnacious performance. He said sorry almost instantly.
The Government faced the most seismic week since it assumed power in 2011, with quickly evolving and bizarre developments drawing comparisons to the Gubu era. Here, we retrace the dramatic events.
For a usually affable man, Taoiseach Enda Kenny seemed uncharacteristically blunt on Sunday evening.
He was in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin for a meeting of the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which was being hosted by businessman Denis O’Brien.
He had already initially spoken to Attorney General Máire Whelan at about lunchtime, when she told him there was a matter he “should be made aware of” but which she was not prepared to discuss over the phone.
Kenny delivered a behind- closed-doors speech and briefly stopped when asked by journalists for a word.
“About what?” he replied, before asking in jest if the queries were about the UN millennium goals. After giving short responses – and very little information – to a few questions on the Garda controversy, he headed for the side door of the Shelbourne.
He stopped to speak to a group of people protesting outside about the presence of Rwandan president Paul Kagame at the UN meeting before getting into his car to head to Government Buildings, where Whelan would brief him on an issue that would turn out to be one of the biggest issues faced by the Government.
Also in Government Buildings was Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach. As well as Whelan, legal advice was given by a senior counsel, although it is unclear if this person was in Government Buildings on Sunday.
The four people – Kenny, Fraser, Whelan and the senior counsel – formed the core group which decided a course of action before Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Kenny and the Government Buildings team started on a “verification process” – and deciding what to do – on Monday, with Kenny also attending a few functions during the day.
Unaware at this stage of what was happening, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was in Croke Park announcing funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs for GAA grounds in London.
Gilmore was asked numerous questions by reporters about the Garda controversies.
He took the opportunity to outline his party’s three positions for the week ahead: Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan should withdraw the comments in which he called the actions of Garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson “disgusting”; Minister for Justice Alan Shatter should correct the Dáil record and apologise for his statement that the whistleblowers had not co-operated with internal Garda inquiries; and an independent Garda authority should be established to give civilian oversight to the force.
Asking for an apology from Shatter was new, and the initial indications that night from the Department of Justice were that Labour’s request was likely to be spurned.
Meanwhile, the team around the Taoiseach was forming a view about what was to be done. At 6pm Shatter was briefed by Kenny and Whelan about what was emerging about Garda recordings.
The Taoiseach decided to detail Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department of Justice, to tell Callinan of the concerns at Government about these developments.
This meeting, at Callinan’s home, is understood to have taken place after Shatter’s briefing. Government sources claimed Shatter was aware of the meeting between his secretary general and Callinan.
Accounts of what was said have subsequently emerged, with Callinan’s camp letting it be known he was told he might not survive the next morning’s Cabinet meeting. It also let it be known Callinan told Purcell he would think overnight about what he had been told.
The day which would see the crisis reach its peak started with Ministers arriving at Leinster House and Government Buildings at about 8am for that morning’s Cabinet meeting.