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.
Sequence of events We still do not know what occurred during Purcell’s visit to
Callinan’s home or what occurred during follow-up telephone conversations the next day in which it seems it was made clear to Callinan that he was unlikely to survive that day’s Cabinet meeting, even though other Ministers were not made aware of the approach to him.
At the end of March I posited here some of the questions that the Taoiseach should answer about this controversy. They have not been answered since and they are worth repeating. Why was it that Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter were not brought into the loop when the Taoiseach first sought to assess the legal implications of the discovery of phone recordings at Garda stations? In what circumstances did Brian Purcell end up being instructed by the Taoiseach to visit the Garda commissioner at his home for the purposes of letting him know the Taoiseach’s “grave concerns” on the matter? What were or are the Taoiseach’s “grave concerns” and how did they relate to the Garda commissioner? Was the Taoiseach actually up to speed at that point with Callinan’s correspondence about the phone recordings and, if he was, how come the minister for justice wasn’t shown this correspondence until after the commissioner had resigned?
How did the Taoiseach propose to deal with the fact that Ministers Leo Varadkar, Joan Burton, Ruairí Quinn and Gilmore had undermined his authority over the previous days by publicly commenting on the commissioner’s attitude to whistleblowers? Was it pure coincidence that this political difficulty for the Taoiseach was solved by the commissioner’s resignation?
It is just not tenable, as a series of Ministers have insisted, that we must wait, perhaps a year, until the Fennelly commission reports before we know the answers to these questions.
These are political issues for which the Taoiseach and Government are answerable to the Dáil and public.
If the Garda commissioner was effectively sacked by the Taoiseach without reference to his coalition partners and for reasons of pure political expediency then that raises significant questions of governance and profound issues about the relationship between politics and policing.
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.
Media attention on these issues has intensified this week. The ticking is getting louder.