Saturday 22 October 2016

Andrew Lynch: Fennelly Report exposes headless chicken governance

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny will almost certainly survive any political fallout from the Fennelly Report.

But if the Taoiseach thinks that this episode reflects well on him or his colleagues, however, he is only fooling himself.

In fact, Fennelly has shone a harsh light on this Government's shoddy and incompetent work practices - raising grave doubts over what might happen if they were faced with another economic crisis.

On Tuesday, Kenny gave a masterclass in the art of political spin. He began to get his retaliation in first around 10am, claiming that the report would fully vindicate him and everyone should move along.

He repeated the same line on RTE's Six One news, less than a hour after the document was published and before anyone had a chance to digest its full contents.

We now know that the truth is much more complex. Yes, Enda was cleared of the central political charge that he sacked Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in March 2014.

Since Kenny's late-night despatch of top civil servant Brian Purcell to Callinan's house left the Commissioner feeling he had no choice but to resign, however, many people will feel that the Taoiseach has only escaped on a technicality.

Even more serious than this is what Fennelly discovered about the Government's communication problems. His report is a 300-page litany of crossed wires, missing letters, panicky decisions and senior State officials running around like headless chickens.

In the Irish body politic, things work slowly, we've learned.

Enda Kenny apparently did not learn about the potential scandal of illegal garda tape recordings until March 23 of last year - over five months since Commissioner Callinan had discussed it with the Attorney General's chief adviser.


Kenny told Fennelly that the news left him so shocked, he did not get "a wink of sleep" that night. The next day, he held a four-hour discussion in his office with Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Attorney General Maire Whelan, along with civil servants Brian Purcell and Martin Fraser.

Purcell was once shot in both legs by The General, Martin Cahill - but he still described being sent out to the Garda Commissioner's house at 11pm as the worst day of his career.

Incredibly, however, we don't know what exactly happened at Enda's gathering because nobody bothered to take a single note.

Most parish sports clubs know how to record minutes of their meetings, but some of the country's most important office-holders decided not to bother.

The upshot is that they all have different memories of what Purcell was supposed to say to Callinan and whether or not the Commissioner was being invited to consider his position.

Does all this remind you of anything? It is, of course, scarily similar to the night of the banking guarantee in 2008 when Brian Cowen blundered away $64bn precisely because he and his staff were working in the dark.

Kenny's bumbling might not have the same economic consequences, but it hardly inspires confidence that he would be able to handle a financial emergency any better.

The Fennelly Report has raised several other awkward questions. Was Alan Shatter kept out of the loop for so long because the then Justice Minister had become politically toxic?

Why did the Attorney General seem to flip-flop, first telling Fennelly that the garda tape recordings were "criminal activity" but later regretting her "trenchant language" and insisting that she had only referred to "potential" illegality?

Most importantly from the Opposition's point of view, was Martin Callinan right to think he had been made an offer he couldn't refuse - and is it really credible that Godfather Kenny was surprised by the Commissioner's 'retirement'?

With Fine Gael and Labour both circling the wagons, Kenny should sail through an upcoming Dail motion of no confidence. He can count himself lucky - because in many countries the farcical behaviour exposed by Justice Fennelly would be enough to finish him off.

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