Questions remain on who knew what of Garda bugging

Chain of events surrounding this week’s revelations still unclear

Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter and former garda commissioner Martin Callinan: what exactly did they know about secretive recording? Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter and former garda commissioner Martin Callinan: what exactly did they know about secretive recording? Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 01:00

The Government insists it moved as quickly as possible to seek a commission of inquiry into the Garda bugging affair but questions remain as to the exact chain of events.

In focus right now are Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, Attorney General Máire Whelan, Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell and former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan. What precisely did they know about the secretive recording system? When? And what did they do about it?

The roots of the debacle stretch right back to an effort in the 1980s to track bomb threats phoned to Garda stations at the height of the Troubles in the North. The questions this raises are as numerous as they are profound.

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In the frame more immediately, however, is Mr Kenny’s declaration that he did not learn of the matter and its wider implications until he met Ms Whelan on Sunday evening. This followed a phone call that morning from the Taoiseach to Ms Whelan. He said such calls are a matter of routine in advance of a Cabinet meeting, but there was more. “She indicated that there was another matter that I should be made aware of and that she was not prepared to talk to me about the matter on the telephone,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil. In his own account, this was the first Mr Kenny knew of the matter.

Mr Shatter’s assertion is that he knew nothing of it until Monday evening. The Minister did not see a letter on the matter from Mr Callinan until lunchtime the next day, three hours after Mr Callinan unexpectedly resigned. No less than 16 days had passed since Mr Callinan had written to Mr Purcell, the letter dated March 10th and including a request that it be shown to the Minister.

The first Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore heard of the issue was when Mr Kenny told him on Tuesday morning before the Cabinet meeting.

Although the response was indeed rapid, two events last year help set the scene. These are: Mr Callinan’s termination of the recording scheme in November; and litigation arising from the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Also relevant are sustained attacks on Mr Shatter over his response to an assortment of Garda controversies, and similar pressure on Mr Callinan. The Government has dismissed Opposition claims it is using the bugging affair as a foil to shield Mr Shatter from the fallout of Mr Callinan’s exit.

We do not know the exact reason for Mr Callinan’s decision to scrap the recording system. In the backdrop, however, is a wrongful arrest action taken by Ian Bailey against the Garda and State in relation to the Toscan du Plantier case.

The Garda recordings ceased on November 27th, 2013. Two days earlier, the High Court was told that new material involving about 16,000 records, some of them electronic, had emerged in the course of the Bailey action. Senior counsel Paul O’Higgins told the court fresh and unexpected material had come up in relation to matters such as phone traffic. At that time, the court told the State to produce the material by March 25th, Tuesday of this week.

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