Three sorrowful mysteries of the Garda taping saga

Opinion: ‘I pray that my faith will withstand these unworthy doubts’

‘The second sorrowful mystery is why Enda Kenny didn’t call Alan Shatter (above) with the news that there was a potential crisis in the justice system on March 23rd or for 24 hours after he himself was told.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

‘The second sorrowful mystery is why Enda Kenny didn’t call Alan Shatter (above) with the news that there was a potential crisis in the justice system on March 23rd or for 24 hours after he himself was told.’ Photograph: Alan Betson


“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
– Mark, 9:24

I am six years old again and Sr Frances is telling us about the mystery of the Holy Trinity: how there can be three persons in one God. It is, she says, the most important thing for us to believe but even when we grow up we will never understand it. It is beyond all human understanding – even the pope’s. All we can do is believe. The mystery exists to test our faith. We have to pray for the strength to believe in something that doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Listening to the Taoiseach and Alan Shatter last week, 50 years fell away and I was back in that classroom with Sr Frances again, baffled but desperate to believe. Like the Holy Trinity, their account of what they knew about illegal recordings of phone calls at Garda stations is now a cornerstone of faith in our State. If they were lying, the State would unravel: as the Taoiseach put it in the Dáil last week, we must approach this whole story “in the knowledge that up ahead lies the most fundamental issue in our society which is trust, belief and faith in the justice system”.

And not only in the justice system, but in our democracy as a whole. If the account we’ve been given were not true, the Cabinet, the Dáil, the Civil Service, the courts and the Garda would all have been wrapped in a tissue of lies.

This could not possibly be the case, of course: however little the story makes sense we have to believe it because the alternative is even more fantastical. We have to apply the Sherlock Holmes principle: eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. The impossible here is that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice are not telling us the full truth. We are left therefore with the highly improbable conclusion that things really did happen as they tell us they did.

I accept this conclusion but I have to rely on the power of prayer to give me the strength to do so. I’ve been through three decades of the rosary so far. I prayed first that I might come to accept both what Shatter said of the attorney general – that she “was made aware of the existence of tapes” from November 11th last when the Garda commissioner consulted her about the issue – and what Pat Rabbitte says: that only her office was consulted. I prayed I might further accept that as her knowledge grew she told neither Enda Kenny nor any other member of the Government about it until Kenny phoned her on March 23rd. I fully accept this is the case but I can’t understand why.

The explanation given by the Taoiseach last week is that “the Attorney General’s fundamental constitutional position is to give legal advice to the Government. She is bound to have all of the facts at her disposal before she makes a judgment.” I wish this made some sense, but it doesn’t. The AG was not being asked to make a legal “judgment” – just to pass on information. And if she couldn’t do this until she had “all of the facts”, then, by definition, she couldn’t have told the Taoiseach about it on March 23rd either. If she had “all of the facts” then, why do we need a commission of investigation to find out what those facts are?

Potential crisis
The second sorrowful mystery is why Kenny didn’t call Shatter with the news that there was a potential crisis in the justice system on March 23rd or for 24 hours after he himself was told. We know, because he has told us repeatedly, that he has absolute confidence in Shatter, so the silence is deeply puzzling. The Taoiseach’s explanation is that he wished to have the information from the AG “assessed by somebody competent in the legal profession to see how serious the issue was” before telling Shatter. Isn’t Shatter, a distinguished lawyer, “competent in the legal profession”? Isn’t the AG? Wasn’t the fact that the AG had asked to see Kenny in person urgently on a Sunday evidence enough that the issue was serious?

The third sorrowful mystery is that senior officials in the Department of Justice allegedly kept to themselves for fully two weeks an urgent statutory communication from the Garda commissioner to the Minister for Justice. The letter sent by Martin Callinan on March 10th was a formal communication under section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Under that section, such communications refer, by definition, to “significant developments”. Who decided not to tell the Minister about a significant development in the justice system? It’s a mystery.

I pray that my faith will withstand these unworthy doubts. I pray that this holy trinity of mysteries will be accepted by us all as things we must not question if our democracy is to have any credibility. It would be easier for us to do that if we were all still six years old.

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