AG’s position ‘untenable’ after Fennelly findings - Shatter
Whelan raised prospect of consequences for convictions over Garda taping
Attorney General Maire Whelan. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has said the Attorney General’s position is ‘untenable’ following the report of the Fennelly commission.
The commission, established to investigate the recording of phone calls at Garda stations, found the former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan informed Attorney General Máire Whelan about the issue in 2013.
She did not inform Mr Shatter, who was then minister for justice, at the time.
Instead, the first the government learned about the issue was when Ms Whelan telephoned Taoiseach Enda Kenny one Saturday morning in late March 2014, and told him an important matter had come to her notice.
In a meeting later with Mr Kenny, Ms Whelan raised the prospect of widespread illegal actions by gardaí with serious consequences for some existing convictions.
In his final report, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, chair of the commission, said no criminal cases were materially affected by the recording of telephone calls in and out of Garda stations around the country.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast on Friday, Mr Shatter said the Attorney General had overreacted on hearing about the recordings, which had prompted the Taoiseach to react with “a degree of alarm”.
Mr Shatter said Ms Whelan’s conduct was “quite astonishing” but described the taping and recording of telephone calls at Garda stations as “more cock up than conspiracy”.
He said that both the Taoiseach and Attorney General had failed to talk to him about the issue. Ms Whelan had been concerned that prosecutions were going to collapse because of this information, but that none of this came to pass.
Mr Shatter said he felt vindicated by first the interim report and now by the publication of the Fennelly report which he said confirmed that he knew nothing about the taping.
“I never expected to find myself in a position in which I would give different evidence to that of the Attorney General and the Taoiseach. Fortuitously the evidence was believed by Judge Fennelly,” Mr Shatter said. “The Attorney General and the Taoiseach should have consulted with me and the Taoiseach too.”
Mr Shatter added Mr Callinan had been put in a position where he had no choice but to retire. “There wasn’t adequate information to put him in that position.”
Sense of proportion
The former minister for justice said he tried to bring a sense of proportion to the issue but he was ignored. He said he made sure the Attorney General was adequately briefed about concerns on the recordings, but she failed to pass that information on to the Taoiseach.
When asked if he thought the Attorney General’s position was untenable, Mr Shatter that while he held her in great regard, he found her conduct “quite astonishing” which led to consequences that should never have occurred.
“Her position remains untenable.”
He added that he has not spoken with the Taoiseach “in a very long time” and did not think Mr Kenny had any intention of apologising to him.
later, Ms Shatter said the Taoiseach needs to give an account to the Dáil of his reaction to the garda recording issue.
Avoided the issue
“Are the Opposition willing to take on their parliamentary duty to question the Taoiseach?” Mr Shatter asked RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that in any other parliamentary democracy the issue would be a resigning matter.
The Taoiseach and the Attorney General have “avoided the issue”, he said.
Mr Shatter added that the Attorney General had known of the recordings since November 2013 but had not informed him or the Taoiseach.
When she did inform the Taoiseach in March 2014, she gave him “alarmist advice”, said Mr Shatter.
“I questioned the factual basis for the level of alarm and called for calm assessment.”
The controversy over the recordings was indicative of ‘substantial management dysfunction” within the Garda that needs to be urgently addressed, he added.