Thursday 27 October 2016

Andrew Lynch: Enda Kenny lives to fight another day as report finds no smoking gun

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ex Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ex Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan

Last Sunday in Croke Park, Enda Kenny watched his beloved Mayo football team get out of jail. Now it appears that the Taoiseach has dodged a bullet of his own.

If the Fennelly Commission had accused him of sacking Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, Fine Gael would be looking for a new leader today - but instead the interim report has effectively given him a clean bill of health.

While Justice Fennelly's document runs to almost 300 pages, its key findings can be summed up in just a few sentences. According to the retired Supreme Court judge, Callinan himself took the decision to fall on his sword back in March 2014.

Even though a late-night home visit from top civil servant Brian Purcell was the "immediate catalyst" for Callinan's departure, the Commissioner could have stuck it out if he had really wanted.

In other words, Fennelly has found no smoking gun to implicate Enda Kenny in any wrongdoing.


Instead he concludes that there was a bizarre breakdown of communications between Garda HQ, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General's office.

As a result, the then- Justice Minister Alan Shatter did not learn about the scandal of illegal garda tape recordings until the crucial night of March 24 - even though Callinan had written to Purcell about the matter 10 days previously.

Clearly, this report reflects badly on many people in the justice system. It is also full of strange and colourful details, such as the fact that Callinan had up to 10 black bags of his personal papers shredded.

Of course, Fennelly's verdict may not be the last word. We know that he had to call three key witnesses back for further interviews (including Enda himself), which suggests there were at least some conflicts of evidence. It would be fascinating to publicly hear from the individuals who are criticised in this report - not least Martin Callinan himself.


The optics of Callinan's 'retirement' were always suspicious.

Nobody could blame Kenny for feeling concerned about the various garda scandals that dominated early 2014, but sending a civil servant out to the Commissioner's home was a highly unusual way of communicating those concerns.

On the surface it looked remarkably like a scene from Charlie Haughey's GUBU era or the television drama House Of Cards.

As the Cabinet holds its first post-summer meeting today, Kenny will be keen to put this whole murky affair behind him.

Just like the Mayo football team, he still has some formidable challenges ahead. Thanks to the relatively benign Fennelly Report, however, the Taoiseach should live to fight another day.

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