Fennelly commission reveals profound failures to communicate

Report identifies major failures in administration and governance that need to be rectified

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not force the resignation of former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan but the latter felt he should consider his position, and chose to quit. That is the conclusion of the interim report of a commission of inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court Judge, Mr Justice Nial Fennelly. A conclusion reached with difficulty – the commission had to reconcile “conflicting sworn evidence from Ministers and officials at the highest level in the State”.

It found no written record of a key meeting attended by the Taoiseach and by four others. There, former secretary general of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell was authorised to meet Mr Callinan. But, none of the statements to the commission made by those present – Mr Kenny and Mr Purcell, Attorney General Máire Whelan, former minister for justice, Alan Shatter, and secretary general to the Government Martin Fraser – gave a precise list of the concerns that Mr Purcell should convey to Mr Callinan.

The commission was shocked to find a system of governance that “quite deliberately adopts a practice of not keeping any record of a meeting where an important decision is made”. Its report, from which none of the key players emerge with enhanced reputations, reveals a deeply dysfunctional administrative system marked by inexcusable communications failures at the highest level.

The political response has been predictable. the Taoiseach has declared full confidence in the Attorney General; a judgment hard to reconcile with a report that questions so many of her actions, notably, her failure to inform Mr Shatter of the discovery of the recording of telephone calls in some Garda stations. Fianna Fáil has tabled a no confidence motion in Taoiseach Enda Kenny, with party leader Micheál Martin claiming that Mr Kenny’s position is neither credible nor tenable, and insisting that Mr Callinan was fired. The commission clearly does not agree. However, it could be argued, Mr Callinan’s resignation decision – taken under pressure following a late-night visit to his home at which he was told of the Taoiseach’s confidence concerns – might well amount to a case of constructive dismissal.

Already there have been three resignations: the former commissioner left in controversial circumstances, followed by Mr Shatter and Mr Purcell. The report found that Mr Shatter, as minister for justice, was the last to learn what the Attorney General, Mr Purcell and Mr Callinan had known for some time – about the recording of phone calls in Garda stations. Mr Justice Fennelly has identified major failures in administration and governance which need to be rectified. There should always be, as Mr Shatter has ruefully noted, “the fullest communication and and co-operation between colleagues in government on issues of public importance”. And if there had been, this debacle could so easily have been avoided.

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