Tough questions over Garda commissioner’s resignation remain

Opinion: A lost opportunity for Oireachtas justice committee

‘Was it pure coincidence that this political difficulty for the Taoiseach Enda Kenny was solved on the Tuesday morning by the commissioner’s resignation?’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

‘Was it pure coincidence that this political difficulty for the Taoiseach Enda Kenny was solved on the Tuesday morning by the commissioner’s resignation?’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 06:00

This week the Northern Ireland committee at Westminster held hearings into the process of how on-the-run republicans came to receive letters reassuring them they were not wanted by police for paramilitary crimes committed before the Belfast Agreement.

In a powerful display of how parliament should hold government to account, the Westminster committee heard dramatic testimony from some of those who were at the centre of policing at the time, countering the Northern Ireland Office’s slant about the errors that gave rise to the halting of the trial of John Downey for the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing.

These Westminster committee hearings were held notwithstanding the fact that British prime minister David Cameron has separately ordered a judicially led inquiry into the immunity letters.

At about the same time as the Westminster committee was asserting itself, our own Oireachtas justice committee was ducking and diving trying to avoid what should be its central parliamentary function.

For weeks now our political system has been convulsed by significant issues in policing and justice, culminating 11 days ago with the dramatic revelations about the recording of phone calls at Garda stations and the simultaneous resignation of the Garda commissioner. When it finally got around to considering these events on Wednesday of this week, the Oireachtas justice committee decided that it did not need to get around to inquiring into them, at least not yet.

It is ironic that this Government, which has so often denigrated the judiciary and the legal profession, has had to rush so frequently to the Four Courts in search of judges, former judges or senior counsel to deliver dispassionate examinations on the most sensitive of matters.

While lawyerly inquiries may be the most appropriate way to examine the sensitive legal aspects of controversial policing issues, it is parliament which should be exploring the political dimensions of how the Garda commissioner came to resign and how the Government came simultaneously to publish the story about phone recordings at Garda stations.


Out of the loop
Why was it that Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter were not brought into the loop when Taoiseach Enda Kenny first sought to assess the legal implications of the phone recordings at Garda stations?

In what circumstances did the secretary general of the Department of Justice end up being instructed by the Taoiseach to visit the Garda commissioner at 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 in any way relate to the Garda commissioner?

Was the Taoiseach actually up to speed at that point with commissioner Martin Callinan’s correspondence dealing with 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 on the Tuesday morning by the commissioner’s resignation?

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