What did the Fennelly Commission say about Máire Whelan?
Former attorney general gave different accounts about extent of Garda taping
Former attorney general Máire Whelan’s evidence supported Enda Kenny’s account of Martin Callinan’s departure from the position of Garda commissioner. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
The commission of investigation headed by judge Nial Fennelly heard evidence from former attorney general Máire Whelan on the circumstances surrounding the departure of the former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan.
Callinan suddenly decided to retire in April 2014 following a late night visit from the secretary general of the Department of Justice, who was acting on the instructions of the taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Everyone insisted that the commissioner was not fired, but rather decided to resign after hearing of Kenny’s concerns. This was an important distinction, as the taoiseach was not legally empowered to fire the commissioner. He would have required a decision by the government to do so, and he had not informed his government colleagues before dispatching the secretary general to Callinan’s home.
Whelan’s evidence was very important to Kenny in that it confirmed his account of events, and of the instructions given to the secretary general.
However, it was another aspect of the evidence given by Whelan which concerned Fennelly.
She had given a lengthy statement under oath to the commission when he first began investigating Callinan’s departure.
In that statement, according to the commission’s report, Whelan “clearly said that she had conveyed to the taoiseach that An Garda Síochána had, for decades, been involved in a criminal enterprise.”
A year later, however, the attorney revised the evidence she had previously given under oath.
“The commission respects the fact that the attorney, in a careful and considered written submission, has now modified her evidence and has expressed regret for any contrary impression created. It accepts her qualification of her evidence, as far as it goes,” the report found.
However, the judge was clearly struck by the difference in the two accounts by the attorney. He appears to favour her first account. “It is inescapable,” Fennelly found, “that the attorney general presented an alarming picture to the meeting, to such an extent that the taoiseach was, as he says himself, shocked.”
It raises two issues about Whelan’s behaviour. Firstly, her advice to Kenny – from which followed directly the resignation of the Garda commissioner – turned out to be overly alarmist. The issue of Garda taping did not lead to verdicts being overturned or the release of criminals or the emptying of jails, as Martin Fraser, the State’s top civil servant described the vista presented.
Secondly, a year later, when it was apparent that the situation was not as serious as had originally been presented, she altered her evidence to say that she had not presented such an alarmist view in the first place.
Either issue would raise eyebrows. Both together are quite something.