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Monday 21 August 2017

Andrew Lynch: Enda Kenny's ongoing silence is starting to speak volumes

DETAILS: A year after Martin Callinan's exit, why won't the Taoiseach answer simple questions? asks Andrew Lynch

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ex Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ex Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Mr Justice Nial Fennelly
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan

What has Enda Kenny got to hide? One year after the shock resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, the Taoiseach's role in the affair remains as murky as ever.

With an official investigation by Justice Nial Fennelly still ongoing, only one thing seems clear - Kenny's reluctance to answer basic questions about the controversy is starting to look more and more suspicious.

In recent days, this skeleton in the Government's closet has been rattling its chains again. The Taoiseach is refusing to confirm or deny reports that he was one of three witnesses recalled by the inquiry for another round of questions.

He piously claims that to do so would be breaking the law - but as the Opposition have furiously pointed out, the law in question only seems to exist inside his head.

You do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to come up with a possible explanation for Enda's unease.

If Fennelly's report concludes that Kenny effectively sacked the Garda Commissioner, as even a member of his own cabinet has publicly suspected, it would be nothing less than political dynamite.

At best, the Taoiseach would have to issue a grovelling apology - and at worst he might well be forced to join Martin Callinan in retirement.

The reason is simple. Garda Commissioners are supposed to enjoy a high degree of independence and can only be fired by the Cabinet as a whole.

pressure

A prime minister might be able to personally dispose of his police chief in some South American banana republic, but not in this country - at least not without some serious consequences.

So did Martin Callinan jump or was he pushed? To understand the full context, we need to go back to January 2014 and his appearance in front of the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

The Garda Commissioner was already under intense pressure, not least from a couple of whistleblowers within the force who alleged that penalty points were being cancelled on a regular basis.

During Callinan's tense five-hour grilling, he made a bad mistake by describing the activities of John Wilson and Maurice McCabe as "disgusting". Pressure grew on him to withdraw the word, particularly after a Garda Inspectorate report fully vindicated the whistleblowers' claims.

The then Transport Minister Leo Varadkar caused a major stir when he publicly declared that the correct description for Wilson and McCabe was not "disgusting", but "distinguished".

By the middle of March, Callinan was fighting a war on several fronts. It has been suggested that members of the force may have bugged the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) headquarters on Abbey Street, a bizarre story that now seems to have been a complete ball of smoke.

Reports had also emerged of a sensational dossier that contained details of garda malpractice in cases involving abduction, assault and murder.

Despite all this turmoil, nobody was prepared for the sensational events of March 24-25, 2014. All we know for sure is that during the evening, Enda Kenny held discussions with his Justice Minister Alan Shatter and top civil servant Martin Fraser.

The Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, was then sent to Callinan's home in Glasnevin - officially to let the Commissioner know just how concerned the Taoiseach was about recent events.

Shortly after 9.30am the following morning, Callinan stunned the political world by announcing his "retirement".

At the Cabinet meeting to approve his decision, yet another policing scandal was up for discussion.

It emerged that thousands of telephone calls had been secretly recorded at garda stations around the country, dating back to the 1980s - and the retired Supreme Court judge Nial Fennelly (inset) was quickly asked to head up an official investigation.

All of this begged some obvious questions, but Enda Kenny consistently refused to answer them. When Brian Purcell appeared before the Oireachtas Justice Committee in May, he too chose to hide behind the Fennelly Commission.

The frustrated committee then chose its second best option - and asked Fennelly to also inquire into how and why Martin Callinan fell on his sword.

All along, Kenny has insisted that he absolutely did not order the Commissioner to quit. If the Taoiseach wants to find somebody with grave doubts about this, all he has to do is look around the Cabinet table.

During Alex White's campaign for the Labour leadership last June, he tried to turn Callinan's exit into a major issue, writing to party members: "I will not stand over a position where the Taoiseach looks to fire the Commissioner of the gardai without as much as a phone call to the leader of the Labour Party."

Alex was later beaten in that race and there has barely been a peep out of him on the subject ever since.

Now all we can do is wait. Fennelly was due to report at the end of this month, but recently announced a delay due to the ongoing High Court case involving Ian Bailey. He and his partner are suing the State for wrongful arrest, an allegation linked to those secret garda recordings.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach who famously said: "Paddy likes to know what the story is", has on this subject decided to treat us like mushrooms - covered with manure and kept in the dark.

hnews@herald.ie

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