Friday 28 October 2016

Andrew Lynch: A nervous wait as Fennelly judgment day looms for Enda Kenny

Ireland's Taoiseach Enda Kenny has weighed into the FIFA controversy
Ireland's Taoiseach Enda Kenny has weighed into the FIFA controversy

Enda Kenny must be biting his nails.

At some point in the coming days, the Taoiseach is due to receive a draft of the Fennelly Report into why former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan 'retired' so suddenly 15 months ago.

Most people in Government Buildings expect the report to deal Enda a political blow - the only question is whether it turns out to be a flesh wound or something far more serious.

The facts remain as murky as ever - mainly because neither Kenny nor anyone else has publicly cleared them up.

We know that in early 2014 Martin Callinan was under serious pressure, mostly from his unwise decision to describe the actions of two garda whistleblowers as "disgusting". We know that on the evening of March 24, the Taoiseach held talks with the then Justice Minister Alan Shatter and senior civil servant Martin Fraser.


We know that the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, was dispatched to Callinan's house in Glasnevin - officially just to tell the Commissioner that Enda Kenny was extremely worried by new reports of recordings of phone conversations in garda stations.

What we don't know for sure is exactly why Callinan announced his departure shortly before 9.30am the following day - the sort of happy coincidence that more usually takes place in South American banana republics.

Whenever Justice Nial Fennelly's document finally drops, Kenny and his advisers are likely to head immediately for the final page.

They, like everyone else in Leinster House, will want to know the verdict right away.

Was the Taoiseach guilty of effectively sacking his Garda Commissioner? Did Callinan genuinely fall on his sword? Or is it possible that everyone just got their wires crossed?

If Fennelly does conclude that Kenny handed Callinan his P45, it will be nothing short of political dynamite. The Taoiseach is absolutely forbidden by law to take such action without Cabinet approval and yet most of his ministers were kept blissfully unaware of what was going on.

In that case, even a humble apology might not be enough to save Enda's skin - instead, he would probably be forced to follow Callinan's example and write out his own letter of retirement.

Another scenario is that Fennelly issues a 'nothing to see here, everybody move on' sort of report. That is possible, but would raise a lot of eyebrows in itself.

After all, sources close to Callinan have made it clear that he felt under intense pressure to quit - which is hard to square with the official Government line of a man voluntarily choosing to ride off into the sunset.

Perhaps the most likely verdict is somewhere in between those two extremes. Fennelly may come up with some formula of words that concludes Kenny acted rashly without actually breaking any law. Then it will be Enda's job to spin his way out of trouble, keeping Tanaiste Joan Burton satisfied as well as his own TDs.

Fine Gael should not be too much of a problem. The last thing they want is a messy leadership battle just months before the general election, with Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald all jockeying for position.

After swallowing the 'McNultygate' cronyism scandal last year, most Fine Gael deputies will be more than capable of sucking up this controversy too.

Labour could be a lot trickier. The junior Coalition partners may not actually want Enda's head on a plate, but they cannot be seen to roll over and play dead either.


Burton has recently launched a social media campaign called 'Talk to Joan' - and Kenny might like to do just that before the Fennelly Report is unveiled in all its glory.

Above all, Enda must not make the same mistake as his Fianna Fail predecessor Albert Reynolds back in 1994. Just half an hour after the Beef Tribunal report arrived at Government Buildings, Reynolds declared: "I've been vindicated!", without consulting his Labour colleagues.

Tanaiste Dick Spring was left spitting blood - and just four months later both the coalition and Albert himself were history.

For Enda Kenny, the day of judgment is very close at hand. The Taoiseach had better be sure that his conscience is completely clear.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News