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Donohoe 'stands by' Taoiseach's actions during Garda whistleblower case, as Shatter pens new book 'Frenzy and Betrayal'

Shatter has spoken out for the first time about the lead up to his resignation from government.

Former justice minister Alan Shatter and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, photographed in 2011
Former justice minister Alan Shatter and now Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, photographed in 2011
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Updated May 29th 2019, 5:05 PM

FINANCE MINISTER PASCHAL Donohoe has said he “stands by” the Taoiseach’s actions during the Garda whistleblower controversy, following comments made by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter in his new book. 

Shatter has spoken out for the first time about the lead up to his resignation from government

Shatter’s account of a hugely turbulent period in Irish political life looks back on moments with Enda Kenny, Leo Varadkar, Martin Callinan and Frances Fitzgerald, as well as his examination of the media’s role in events. 

The new book, Frenzy and Betrayal – The Anatomy of Political Assassination, being launched today, will see Shatter open up about his feelings about the events that unfolded, such as saying he “went to bed feeling exhausted and emotionally drained”. 

In his book, Shatter details the events that followed the resignation of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, and details Leo Varadkar’s role in the controversy that led to the minister’s own resignation. 

Speaking to reporters today, Donohoe said: “I can understand why Mr Shatter has written his book but as I said, I stand by all the Taoiseach did across that period.”

In his book, Shatter says that as he was leaving the Taoiseach’s office on the Monday evening, the Taoiseach had told him he had “met Leo Varadkar that morning and discussed with him his speech of the previous Thursday and his criticism of the Garda Commissioner”. 

Shatter adds that Varadkar had not mentioned this meeting with Kenny to him when he met him earlier in the afternoon. 

Later in the chapter, Shatter adds: 

I had no way of knowing the influence, if any, of Varadkar’s meeting with Kenny that Monday morning and how it figured in Kenny’s assessment of how to best address the garda recordings issue. I was conscious that he was entirely reliant on Whelan’s advice that there had been a ‘wholesale violation of the law by An Garda Síochána’ and that he must have had concerns about Varadkar’s likely response to this information coming up at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Having repeatedly publicly expressed confidence in Martin Callinan, any implications for his continued leadership of Fine Gael, his position as Taoiseach and for the stability of the Government, I knew, had to have figured in Kenny’s approach. I believed it was likely that these considerations substantially influenced his behaviour and the dynamic of our meeting in his office that evening.

 Shatter details that when he returned home, he reflected on what had occured. 

“My concerns grew as did my regret that I had not insisted, as Minister for Justice, that Martin Callinan be invited to discuss the issue with us that night in Government Buildings,” Shatter says. 

Just after midnight, Shatter says he sent Purcell a text reading: “This is horrendous. Phone me when u can at any time. A.” 

About thirty minutes later, Purcell telephoned. He had left the Commissioner’s home and, shortly after, Callinan had phoned him proposing to announce that he would retire, his retirement to take effect in three months’ time. Brian had informed Martin Fraser, Secretary General in the Dept of the Taoiseach, who would contact the Taoiseach. Purcell sounded very distressed and described his visit to Callinan’s home as the worst meeting of his life. He made no mention of Callinan’s letter of 10 March.

Shatter says it was agreed that “we would talk again in the early morning and he would make contact in the meantime if there were any”.

“I went to bed feeling exhausted and emotionally drained,” Shatter says.

0273 Paschal_90572181 Minister Paschal Donohoe speaking today. Source: Leah Farrell

Speaking after an event in Dublin today, the finance minister was asked for his reaction to Shatter’s book, and particularly about the Varadkar’s actions at the time. 

“I am a big reader but I haven’t had a chance to read Mr Shatter’s book yet,” he said. 

He added that Shatter had “made a really important contribution to Fine Gael”. 

Donohoe said that as minister for justice and minister for defence “he served with distinction in the offices”.

“He has now spoken about how he feels upon leaving public life, I have worked very closely with the Taoiseach now for many years. He is intensely collegiate and the comments that he made around the period that Mr Shatter is referring to very driven by the Taoiseach’s desire to ensure that the highest standards possible in relation to public service and integrity and public life could be maintained.

“That’s what guided the Taoiseach in the comments that he made and I can understand why Mr Shatter has written his book but as I’ve said I stand by all the Taoiseach did across that period,” said Donohoe.

One section of the book, seen by TheJournal.ie, relates to a meeting held on the evening of 24 March 2014 in Government Buildings in the office of Taoiseach Enda Kenny at which the Taoiseach, the Attorney General Maire Whelan, the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach Martin Fraser and the Secretary General of the Department of Justice Brian Purcell were present.

The topic under discussion was the revelation of tape-recordings of phone conversations to and from various Garda stations throughout the country. On the next day the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan prematurely announced his retirement.

In the book, Shatter goes on to give an insight into what the Taoiseach’s perspective on the situation may have been. 

From the Taoiseach’s perspective, it was obvious that if the Commissioner swiftly resigned or retired, the difficulties surrounding the following day’s Cabinet meeting would be resolved. Kenny would also be immunised from political criticism and attack resulting from his earlier expressions of confidence in Callinan.

Later in this chapter, Shatter describes his hesitancy about his contact with Callinan following the meeting. 

The time approached 10pm and the meeting ended. Purcell was to first phone Callinan and then drive to his house and he did so. I was convinced there was more to the story and conflicted about whether I should phone Callinan before Purcell’s arrival at his home. I had always respected Kenny’s authority as Taoiseach and his role as head of Government.
I was concerned that a phone call by me at that moment to Callinan would be seen to be not only disloyal but to be disrespectful. I was also concerned that my making such a call could result in a charge that I was in some way complicit in concealing the discovery of the recordings and attempting to fabricate some story with the Commissioner.
In addition, I was annoyed that I had not been informed by Callinan of the recordings issue prior to that evening and wrongly suspected that he might have concealed the issue from me because of the multiplicity of garda-related controversies and media labelled ‘scandals’ of the preceding weeks.

Shatter says that if he had phoned Callinan, it is likely he would have learned that “exactly two weeks earlier on 10 March 2014, a detailed letter explaining the Garda taping issue”, signed by Callinan, for Shatter’s attention, “had been delivered to Purcell’s phone”. 

The letter would not surface until towards the end of the next day’s Cabinet meeting, over three hours after Martin Callinan had announced his premature retirement. It was only upon receipt of the letter that I learnt the Garda Commissioner had first furnished information to and sought advice from the Attorney General’s office on the recordings the previous November.
When I read the letter, I wrongly assumed the issue had been dealt with by Máire Whelan’s officials without her knowledge. The extent of the information furnished to her of the recordings in November 2013 did not fully emerge until the hearings of the Fennelly Commission of Investigation.
It only became public knowledge upon publication of the Fennelly Interim Report in September 2015. And by then few noticed or really cared.

Frenzy and Betrayal – The Anatomy of Political Assassination by Alan Shatter, published by Merrion Press, will be launched at Hodges Figgis, Dawson Street in Dublin this evening at 7pm. 

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