McDowell attacks Coalition over Garda authority

Circumstances surrounding Shatter resignation ‘murky’ says former minister for justice

File photograph Michael McDowell who  has questioned why Mr Kenny did not give an explanation to the Dáil on Mr Callinan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

File photograph Michael McDowell who has questioned why Mr Kenny did not give an explanation to the Dáil on Mr Callinan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 23:50

Former minister for justice Michael McDowell has attacked the Coalition’s plans for an independent Garda authority, and said the Dáil was “confronted with obfuscation” from the Government over the resignation of Martin Callinan as commissioner.

Mr McDowell also said the circumstances surrounding Alan Shatter’s resignation as Minister were “murky” and said the Taoiseach sent his “right hand man” to ask Mr Callinan to “consider his position”. He was speaking at a session at the MacGill Summer School last night on openness, transparency and accountability in law and justice. Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald defended the Government’s reforms at the same session.

Mr McDowell questioned why Mr Kenny had not given an explanation to the Dáil on Mr Callinan, and said it should not impact on the Commission of Investigation into the Garda taping controversy, which is also considering the resignation. “Was there any reason why a full and frank explanation shouldn’t have given in public at the time?” he asked.

‘Abdication’

The former Tánaiste said the lack of an explanation is “an abdication of one of the cornerstones of our democratic system”, and accused the Government of “deferring matters to a Commission of Investigation”.

Mr McDowell said an independent Garda authority is a “derogation of the constitutional need” to have the security of the State accountable to politics. He claimed there is a “danger of going down this road”, adding: “I really do believe when people examine this issue in great depth, there will be serious problem.” He examined such a proposal when implementing reforms during his term in office but said it would be akin to the establishment of the Health Service Executive, and would allow politicians “divest themselves of responsibility and distance themselves from blame”.

“You cannot under any circumstance hand over the security of the state to an independent authority. These were the issues on which Government had to act and we immediately saw we could not have our security services handed over to an independent Garda authority.”

However, Ms Fitzgerald said the authority will not remove political accountability, adding: “It does not mean accountability in the Dáil just goes away.” Ms Fitzgerald has said her duty is to “stand back” from An Garda Síochána, as well as setting down the standards, directions and “absolute requirements” of the force. She said the “wrong thing” for the Minister to do is “to make decisions” Garda management should make. “The right thing . . . to do is to lay down the non-negotiables: the standards, the directions, the absolute requirements of An Garda Síochána,” she said.