herald

Sunday 11 December 2016

Throw AG under the bus at your peril, Labour warns FG partners

The Labour Party fears Attorney General Marie Whelan – a Labour appointee – could be 'thrown under a bus' by Fine Gael
The Labour Party fears Attorney General Marie Whelan – a Labour appointee – could be 'thrown under a bus' by Fine Gael
Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan

The Labour Party has warned Fine Gael to brace itself for a bitter coalition row if it makes Attorney General Marie Whelan the scapegoat for the damaging findings in the Fennelly Commission.

Ms Whelan has come under intense scrutiny since the publication of the report into the events leading up to former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan's shock retirement.

She faces the unprecedented prospect of a motion of no-confidence that was submitted yesterday by Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton both insist they still have confidence in Ms Whelan, despite the damning findings of the report.

But senior Labour figures said they are preparing themselves for a Fine Gael offensive against the Attorney General as part of a damage-limitation exercise.

This could especially take place if the vote of no-confidence proceeds.

There was concern yesterday in the junior government party that Ms Whelan, a Labour appointee, may even be forced to take the fall over the controversy.

However, Labour Party sources said a clear signal will be sent to Fine Gael not to throw Ms Whelan "under the bus" over the findings in Mr Justice Nial Fennelly's report.

"With the heat on Enda, they will inevitably look to throw someone else under the bus. If they try that with the AG, then there will be coalition tensions," a senior Labour source told the Herald.

Ms Whelan was criticised for her failure to contact either Mr Callinan or former Justice Minister Alan Shatter about the potential legal landmine stemming from the widespread recording of certain telephone calls in garda stations.

She claimed she did not contact Mr Shatter because he was "part of the narrative" and there were allegations relating to him personally.

A source close to Mr Shatter said the former minister was "very disappointed" by Ms Whelan's evidence. Mr Shatter worked closely with her during his time in the Cabinet.

"I don't know what was going on in her head. Why she didn't contact him about the recordings during that weekend is mystery to me," a source said.

Ms Whelan also drastically changed her evidence relating to the legality of the secret recordings and was forced to apologise to the commission for her "trenchant language".

Another well-placed source said they felt Ms Whelan went "overboard" in her support of the Taoiseach's version of events on the night Department of Justice Secretary General Brian Purcell went to Mr Callinan's home.

Sinn Fein is seeking to table a motion of no-confidence in Ms Whelan, but coalition sources last night insisted it was not constitutionally possible to hold such a vote.

Mr Kenny is also facing a vote on his ability to lead the country and is likely to face further questions over evidence he gave to the Fennelly Commission.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin accused the Taoiseach of spinning the findings and called on him to resign.

Mr Martin described as "very callous" Mr Kenny's decision not to allow the commissioner to wait a couple of months before stepping down.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said "no amount of spin" could hide how dysfunctional the Government had become.

However, the Tanaiste weighed in firmly behind the Taoiseach, insisting he is fully vindicated by the report.

Meanwhile, Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy has said that the disposal of personal papers and the disappearance of a SIM card belonging to the former commissioner is one of the "key reasons" for the Dail to be recalled.

Valuable

Ms Murphy last night became the latest TD to express concerns over the Fennelly Report, finding that potentially valu- able information was not made available to the commission.

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton said she believed the disappearance of the items now warrants a garda investigation.

In his report, Mr Justice Fennelly said it has been striking how little documentary evidence was available to his team.

Mr Callinan told the commission that he had cleared out all personal papers after he announced his retirement, and he did not have any written notes to support his evidence, particularly in relation to informing Mr Purcell about the issue of the telephone recordings.

"The idea that we would just throw our hands in the air and say 'This is terrible' but do we don't pursue it is to my mind completely wrong," Ms Creighton told RTE's Today with Sean O'Rourke.

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