The questions Enda Kenny must answer on justice and policing controversies
Opinion: If Shatter’s proceedings come to trial they could prove the most politically dramatic court hearings since 1970
‘Enda Kenny should be able to defuse this controversy by giving full and frank answers to parliamentary and media questions. Until and unless he can do so, the Callinan controversy will continue to be a political time bomb under the Taoiseach’s credibility.’ Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times
Section 9 (1) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides: “The appointment of a person to be the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána shall be made by the Government.” This section merely recognised what had been the factual position since the foundation of the State. The cabinet, not the taoiseach or minister for justice, appoints the Garda commissioner. More importantly section 11 of the same Act provides that a Garda commissioner can be “removed from office by the Government” but only “for stated reasons”.
The Act specifies these to include a “failure to perform functions of the office with due diligence and effectiveness”, “engaging in conduct that brings discredit on the office or that may prejudice the proper performance of the functions of the office” or whether, in the government’s opinion, “the person’s removal from office would be in the best interests of the Garda Síochána”.
The Government has broad scope in deciding to sack a Garda Commissioner but it requires a cabinet, as opposed to a ministerial or prime ministerial decision and it requires stated reasons.
Enduring concerns Citing statutory provisions may be unduly technical this bank holiday weekend, but it is appropriate in the context of the week’s events and enduring concerns about the events at the heart of Government in the last week of March.
The controversies around the handling of justice and policing issues which plagued Enda Kenny and his Government going into the Easter recess never really went away. So it’s unsurprising that they have re-emerged as the summer break begins.
This week was marked by the publication of a damning report into weak management and a secretive culture in the Department of Justice. It also emerged in this newspaper that last February that Fine Gael backbencher John Deasy TD had a meeting with the Taoiseach accurately predicting that the Garda whistleblowers would be vindicated and warning that then minister for justice Alan Shatter was handling the issue wrongly. On Thursday Shatter started court proceedings seeking a judicial review of the Guerin report.
These developments all touch on the relationship not only between the then minister and his department but also the relationship between Kenny as Taoiseach and Alan Shatter as Minister for Justice in those final weeks and days before Shatter’s resignation.
If Shatter’s proceedings come to trial and notices to cross-examine are exchanged, they could prove the most politically dramatic court hearings since 1970.
This week’s developments also again raise questions about the role played by Brian Purcell, then secretary general of the Department of Justice, on Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s instructions, in procuring the resignation of the then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.