Why won’t Enda tell Paddy what happened on Callinan Night?

It’s 35 years or so since a commissioner quit. Enda knows why but he won’t tell, writes Miriam Lord.

 The only toxic topic is the circumstances surrounding Mr Callinan’s resignation. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

The only toxic topic is the circumstances surrounding Mr Callinan’s resignation. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins


Never mind poor Paddy. He has a short little span of attention. “Paddy likes to know what the story is.”

That’s what the Taoiseach famously said in the general election afterglow when promising a new era of transparency in government.

Enda knows what the story is today. But he isn’t going to tell Paddy, aka the Irish people. Who cares? It’s only to do with the departure of the Garda commissioner under very mysterious circumstances following a meeting between four of the most important public servants in the land.

The Taoiseach was one of them. It was only two months ago. They can’t have forgotten already. It’s 35 years or so since a commissioner last stepped down. Paddy thinks that’s a very big deal. Enda knows why. But he won’t tell, even though nothing is stopping him from doing so.

Something to hide
And the more he doesn’t tell, cowering in the style of Fianna Fáil ministers during the Mahon tribunal behind the skirts of a judge and his commission of investigation, the more it looks like he has something to hide.

Enda did nothing to dispel that notion in the Dáil yesterday. What does it matter? Health and housing were on the menu during Leaders’ Questions. These are issues very close to Paddy’s weary heart. Honesty and apparent avoidance seem like mere fripperies under the circumstances.

Yet it would be the simplest thing in the world for the Taoiseach to step into the Dáil and tell Paddy and Patricia what they need to know. Or, failing that, to instruct the secretary general he dispatched to the commissioner’s home following that mysterious meeting to tell the truth before the justice committee with his blessing.

Are we missing something?

The most telling sentence spoken in the Dáil chamber came from the Ceann Comhairle, as deputy Róisín Shortall joined the chorus of colleagues demanding to know what transpired during this meeting between individuals of extremely high standing in the State.

“Will you switch off that microphone! Please!”

The Taoiseach said nothing. He just looked annoyed. To onlookers, Paddy’s need to know had just been abandoned by Enda’s need to keep schtum. Róisín Shortall’s microphone was duly silenced.

The Fianna Fáil leader brought up the expected appearance before the justice committee of Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department of Justice and the man in the eye of the storm after the publication of the Guerin report on the Garda whistleblowers.

The findings were so grave that a new inquiry is to be set up to deal with them. Yesterday morning, Purcell wrote to the committee agreeing to appear, but stipulating he would not be answering questions to do with the resignation of the Garda commissioner.

Micheál Martin said they should be allowed ask these questions and the secretary general should answer them. Whereupon Enda nipped behind Nial Fennelly’s skirts. A commission of investigation has been set up and the issue will now be considered by the learned Supreme Court judge. It can’t be discussed now, apparently. Which isn’t true.

Sinn Fein’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn was anxious to put him right. He pointed out that all manner of issues arising from various inquiries are not out of bounds for discussion by Purcell.

Toxic topic

“Quite farcically,” the only toxic topic is the circumstances surrounding

Mr Callinan’s resignation.

Róisín Shortall was similarly exercised. She had sympathy for the civil servant. “You know Mr Purcell cannot divulge a private conversation between you and him on the night in question,” she told Enda.

As the Taoiseach pointedly ignored Róisín and the Ceann Comhairle repeatedly instructed her to resume her seat, she pressed on. “I am asking you to lift the confidentiality in respect of that conversation so people can find out from Mr Purcell why it was that you sent him out to Commissioner Callinan. ”

It was at this point that her microphone was cut. Then she raised the obvious question. The one Paddy has been thinking about too. Because Paddy likes to know.

“Will you yourself appear before the committee?” That would short-circuit things considerably.

Enda glowered

As the Ceann Comhairle brought the

order of business to a close, Róisín refused to let it go. Enda glowered at her. He gathered up his files and straightened them on the ledge with a wallop.

The former Labour junior minister, now on the Independent benches, persisted. Why not set the record straight?

“You are the person who can provide information on what happened that night.”

Indeed, if Enda’s short-term memory is playing up on him, he could always ask Martin Fraser, secretary general to the Government, to fill in the blanks.

Martin, the country’s top-ranking civil servant, was at the mysterious meeting too. It’s so mysterious, neither he nor the Taoiseach nor the secretary general of the Department of Justice can say what happened at it. They need a Supreme Court judge to jog their memories for them, at some unspecified time down the road when the elections are over.

Enda snapped. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” he snarled. “You should be honest instead of putting loyalty before the truth,” she shot back.

The Ceann Comhairle told her “to stay quiet and behave yourself”.

Took umbrage

Whereupon Micheál Martin took umbrage on R

óisín’s behalf.

“The Taoiseach is goading her.”

“And you [stay quiet] too.” “With respect, the Taoiseach said she should be ashamed of herself. He should explain why . . . Why should deputy Shortall be ashamed of saying what she said?”

The Ceann Comhairle responded: “Because she was out of order.”

“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to the Taoiseach” snapped Micheál.

And there it ended, with Enda looking none too pleased. He will have been cheered though to hear that the chairman of the justice committee, his backbencher David Stanton-Idly-By, telling Seán O’Rourke on radio that Brian Purcell might “potentially prejudice” Judge Fennelly’s inquiry if he told the story of what happened on Callinan Night.

Details of that story are not subjudice. And it’s a bit insulting to the esteemed Supreme Court judge to think that, as sole deliberator, he might be influenced by what might be said at some aul Dáil committee. And sure they’d only be telling the committee the honest truth that they will then go on to tell the judge. What’s the big problem? Why won’t Enda just say what happened? Paddy doesn’t like to be kept in the dark.