Many questions over Garda crisis still demand answers

Despite resignation and apology, Government still caught in major political storm

Clockwise from top left: Playing various parts in the whistleblower controversy are now departed Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

Clockwise from top left: Playing various parts in the whistleblower controversy are now departed Garda commissioner Martin Callinan, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter

Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 12:30

The resignation of Martin Callinan as Garda Commissioner and the very full apology from Alan Shatter in the Dáil on Tuesday may have eased the pressure on the Government this week, but it is still caught in the midst of a Category 5 political storm.

Despite the dramatic events of the past few days, there are still a number of irritants, puzzles and questions for which there has yet been no satisfactory answer. The information being released has been strictly controlled and limited.

Question 1: Was Martin Callinan effectively sacked?

Taoiseach Enda Kenny took huge exception to Micheál Martin’s suggestion that this was the case in the Dáil yesterday, claiming he was being accused of being a liar by the Fianna Fáil leader. So what happened?

When the import became clear of the practice of Garda divisional headquarters routinely recording telephone calls, the Taoiseach dispatched a senior civil servant to go to Callinan’s home on Monday evening, the night before the Garda chief stepped down. It was thought the person might have been the top official in the Department of An Taoiseach, Martin Fraser, but Kenny disclosed yesterday that it was Brian Purcell, the secretary general of the Department of Justice.

The Government said Purcell was instructed to talk to Callinan about the response to the unfolding situation. But, crucially, the Taoiseach and those close to him say he was also told to impress upon Callinan how “serious” and how “grave” the situation was.

Was this tantamount to saying, “No pressure, but here’s your P45”, as the opposition has claimed? Certainly, it has been suggested that Callinan was told firstly by Purcell that he might not survive the Cabinet meeting. Then the following morning, in a further conversation, he was told the situation had got worse. Several Ministers also believe, though not privy to the process, that there may have been a political imperative for Callinan to go.

When crises such as this one erupt, it is almost as if the political Gods demand it will not be resolved unless there is a head on a plate. Was this the case? Although the Taoiseach fiercely contested the assertion, to many it looks as if Callinan was effectively forced from his position. We won’t know unless there is a willingness to share what was said in the conversation with Brian Purcell.

Question 2: Is Alan Shatter safe?

Yes, but only for the moment. Shatter is now only one crisis short of walking the plank. If the current controversy is examined, he cannot really be seen as blameworthy. But it comes on top of a raft of crises in which he has been a central protagonist. His lack of knowledge also dents the slightly hubristic claim made on his behalf of the 6am starts at work, and his extraordinary, encyclopaedic command of everything that moves within his department.

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